Sunday, 29 April 2012

An Affair of the Heart - Review By Greg Klymkiw - HOT DOCS 2012 MUST-SEE #11

An Affair of the Heart (2012) dir. Sylvia Caminer ***

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The 80s was truly the most abominable decade of my life. Movies generally hit an all time artistic low. Once punk and its offshoots died, the music seemed to die with it. Fashion was abominable. Life was worse. Those born at the tail end of the Baby Boom had little to look forward to. An awful lot of slacking was the order of the day as all the dirty hippies and their ilk from the beginning and middle sections of the boom hogged all the great jobs and snuffled at every available trough, leaving scraps for the lost generation that slightly pre-dated the McJob Gen-X-ers. There seemed to be virtually nothing good about this woeful decade. That said, I was recently reminded that kick-ass, working-class Top-40 rock n' roll was a bit of an oasis for us before-our-time curmudgeons-in-the-making.

Seeing An Affair of the Heart, it suddenly dawned on me that Rick Springfield was an artist whose music gave me a whole whack o' pleasure - especially living in a mid-western Canadian prairie city like Winnipeg where you drove everywhere. "Jessie's Girl", Springfield's Grammy Award winner and any number of singles he generated during this period were a welcome relief on long car trips via AM radio and 8-track car stereo. A fella' could crank Springfield and put the pedal to the metal with considerable abandon.

So how and why is it that I forgot this guy? Frankly, I don't think it had anything to do with the music. Watching Springfield do his stuff during some of the terrific concert footage in this new documentary made me realize how cool he really was. Maybe it had something to do with his looks. Even though he was in his 30s during this hugely successful period of his career, he had a kind of youthful pretty-boy appeal which seemed to be diametrically opposed to a lot of his tunes that raged. Or maybe it was his years as a regular actor on the soap opera "General Hospital". After all, how could anyone take a musician seriously who was moonlighting in daily melodrama for housewives?

At the end of the day, though, I suspect Springfield was simply guilty by association for being part of an utterly horrendous decade. When I think 80s, all I can think about are John Hughes abominations, the moronic George Lucas Star Wars sequels that almost ruined movies, the dumbing down of Spielberg with his Lucas-influenced extravaganzas and virtually every movie from the producing team of Bruckheimer and Simpson - all those machine-tooled pictures that Pauline Kael nailed perfectly when she titled her published compilation of 80s film reviews "State of the Art".

State of the art, indeed.

Many fans, however, did not forget Springfield and held a musical and emotional torch for the literal and metaphorical chords he struck.

Chances are, if An Affair of the Heart is a hit - which it could well become, Springfield might yet reach his widest audience yet (and his loyal audiences in the 80s were huge indeed). What might just do it is that he's shorn the pretty-boyishness. After all, the guy is in his 60s now. He is, however, still incredibly good looking - the miles he's put on his visage and his more recent musical output has the sort of weight that's more commanding than ever.

Director Sylvia Caminer's film works well as a tribute to Springfield, but what places it in a unique position above many rock documentaries is that it focuses primarily on the fans who adore him and the unique relationship he has with them - collectively and in many cases, one-on-one. The movie is slick and entertaining. Some of the fan tales of how Springfield and his music affected their lives in positive ways are often very funny, but more often than not, are heart-wrenchingly moving. In particular, the stories of a woman with a congenital heart defect and another, a female Unitarian minister who was brutally gang-raped are utterly soulful. Springfield's relationship with these fans is especially poignant.

While presenting an original approach to a rock legend, the movie leaves many unanswered questions. While briefly touching on his infidelity to his wife of thirty years, his 80s disregard of his fans and his countless and continuing bouts with suicidal thoughts and depression, the extremely unique perspective on Springfield almost maddeningly gets in the way of those who want more perspective on the deep struggles he clearly endured. The movie only scratches the surface of Springfield's dark side. For example, it features a good amount of footage from the promotional tour of his tell-all autobiography and we get bits and pieces of darkness, but it's always framed within the context of, "Boy, he sure pulls no punches in this book of his."

Yes, I'm compelled to read Springfield's book, but frankly, I'd have been happier if the film itself addressed these issues more head-on. This, I think, might have provided added insight, drama and conflict to the special relationship he does indeed have with his multitude of fans.

At 93 minutes, the film does not feel long and is frankly entertaining enough to have survived some deeper digging. Given the nature of such documentaries, there is probably a whole lot of good material that wound up on the cutting room floor which, will no doubt, find it's way into the eventual DVD/Blu-ray extras. I might be wrong, but a part of me doubts these extras will have more in the way of the dark stuff I'm craving. Then again, I'm more of a 70s child and chances are good his fans might be less enamoured with the Sam Peckinpah/Martin Scorsese elements of his life that would turn my own crank a bit more.

"An Affair of the Heart" plays Sun, Apr 29 8:45 PM at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, Mon, Apr 30 7:15 PM at The Royal Cinema and Thu, May 3 6:30 PM at Cumberland 3 during Toronto's Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival 2012. For tickets, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.