Sylvia Caminer’s documentary feature, An Affair of the Heart, initially turns the camera’s eye on musician and actor Rick Springfield. A pop music powerhouse, and actor on soap opera General Hospital, in the ’80s, Springfield is probably best known for his hit song “Jessie’s Girl,” though his career boasts seventeen songs in the Top 40. He disappeared for a spell in the ’90s, but missing the stage and the connections with his fans, returned to a touring schedule that routinely includes 70 to 100 concerts a year. Even I’ve seen him live, thanks to Dave Grohl’s Sound City Players concert during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and for a concert that featured the caliber of musical talent it did, Springfield was a surprisingly standout highlight for me.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The documentary also follows along with a select few fans who have stuck with Springfield for decades, some who literally grew up on stage around him (such as Dustin, who got to be on stage with Springfield when he was three, became a regular concert fixture (despite being too young for many a venue) and, twelve years later, winds up performing alongside his musical idol). As the stories of the fans unfold, Springfield becomes less the focus of the film and more the common thread; he becomes the guy who got all these like-minded humans in the room, but now it’s about them.
What the film most succeeds in capturing is the elusive connection between performer and fan that you so often hear talked about, but don’t always see properly translated. As the select fans share their reasons for following along with Springfield’s career, it tells part of the story, but when juxtaposed with the fun on display during the concerts, you see the tiny worlds that have been created, as everyone becomes a part of living within that moment. Societal and familial concerns disappear for a short time, and all there remains is the music and the symbiotic relationship between performer and audience.
And from the outside, sometimes that can look pretty strange. When a cruise for Rick Springfield fans is shared with folks just there for the cruise ship experience, you get to see the disconnect of those on the outside looking in. Likewise you see the conflict that exists within one couple’s marriage, as the husband finds himself distrusting and misunderstanding of his wife’s fandom for Springfield (an issue perhaps exacerbated by the fact that the husband was in a hardcore punk band growing up, and chose a different path rather than continuing his musical pursuits). The husband wonders if Springfield is just another “scumbag rockstar” playing nice to con his adoring public; I’m no therapist, but if I was on the potential path to rock stardom, and chose something different, but found my wife was really into some other musician, there’d be some wounded feelings bubbling up.
So it’s not all smiles and fun. Admissions of Springfield’s own battle with depression, as well as tragic stories of some of the fans’ life journeys, serve to ground the film and make it an even more universal experience. Whether you enjoy Springfield’s music specifically or not, all of us have been a diehard fan of something at some point in our lives. Something external helped carry us through dark times, or perhaps pointed out the strength we had within us all along. In that sense, you can’t help but relate to what you see in this film.
Which is important, because it would be easy for the filmmakers to turn this into a giant joke, and seek out, for freak show ridicule, the fans they find the most sensationally strange and weird. This could be about laughing at the crowd from arm’s length, pretending to be superior to a fan base that one doesn’t understand. You could make that film about any fan base, and those films have been made before. Thankfully, that’s not this story.
Ultimately, if you’re a fan of Rick Springfield, I think you’ll find your appetite whet in regards to candid moments with him and his music. This is not an exhaustive biography, however, so those seeking that may wish to read his book instead. That said, I go back to the film’s ability to capture the connection between performer and audience, and the way it personifies the experience with the select group of fans it focuses on, as its main strength. To that end, the film presents universal moments and truths that you can’t help but appreciate, making it bigger than just Rick Springfield performing “Jessie’s Girl” for the umpteenth time in his career. It speaks to the heart and soul of what it means to share the human experience, and, again, you don’t have to specifically love Springfield to understand what everyone is feeling.
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