Not that Rick Springfield isn’t interesting, because he is, but “An Affair of the Heart” is concerned with more than what drives rock’s Energizer Bunny. Namely, it wants to know what drives his fans — a mostly female, totally fixated following that pursues the erstwhile hitmaker from coast to coast, venue to venue, 40 years after “Jessie’s Girl” and his starring role on “General Hospital.” While she creates an affectionate portrait of the charismatic musician, helmer Sylvia Caminer is really concerned with the meaning of fandom; anyone harboring an inexplicable or arcane passion could conceivably be interested.
Despite being past 60, Springfield is lean and remarkably energetic, and plays dozens of live shows a year, as well as cruises and similar fan events for a legion of acolytes whose devotion is unyielding. “I can’t imagine having that much loyalty to anything,” says a female skeptic, but such is the point: With seemingly open access not just to the star, but to also several of his more hardcore fans, Caminer explores what it means to be into Rick, and what that means to the people who care about people who are into Rick.
Certainly it helps to be a fan when watching “An Affair of the Heart,” which makes no bones about being soft on Springfield. There’s no shortage of his music, or of personal stories: For Laurie Bennett, who spent 18 months bedridden after heart surgery and missed eighth grade, Springfield provided a solace she’s never forgotten. A rape victim says Springfield’s 2004 album, “Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance,” helped her recover from her trauma.
At the core of the docu are best friends JoAnn Camporeale and Sue DeVita, who say they attend about a Springfield show a month, which involves traveling and spending time away from their children. How their obsession affects their marriages and their long-suffering husbands (one of whom is visibly running out of patience) is easily the most complex aspect of the film, even though Caminer handles some volatile domestic material with a light touch.
Springfield, who had 17 Top 40 hits and sold 19 million records before dropping out of music in 1990, articulates a certain wisdom about his die-hard disciples. In a world rife with insecurity and danger, he says, it’s comforting to have something to hold on to and provides a sense of safety. For some, he provides a connection to a happier past; for other, like 14-year-old Dustin Walker, Springfield is a very current attraction, and inspiration: When Springfield has the young guitarist join him onstage for a number, the kid’s sense of joy is uncontrolled. Similarly stirring is a sequence in which Springfield, thanks to a strange bit of booking, is scheduled to play a hard-rock festival in Sweden, where he wins over a mostly male, vaguely hostile audience primed for headliners Aerosmith and Guns N’ Roses.
While Caminer includes just the right number of people who think the whole thing is nuts, for the Springfield loyalists, there are no apologies, no explanations, no questions. If you don’t get it, that’s your loss. In a world full of questions, that kind of blind faith is almost reassuring.
Tech credits are tops, notably the work of David Dean, whose editing is in sync with the energy of a Springfield show.