“Head Over Heels”: Timothy Reckart’s 2012 Oscar-nominated animated short

By on May 25, 2015

A few years ago, we were watching all of the Oscar-nominated animated short films, and there was one in particular — British filmmaker Timothy Reckart’s Head Over Heels — that was so affecting that it has stayed with us, and so we thought we’d share it here in case you haven’t seen it. This beautifully conceptual work of art, in the stop-motion style you know we all love here at Night Flight, manages to take its concept much further in ten short minutes than most films do in two hours.

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Head Over Heels is aptly titled — originally it was a 14th-century term which meant the position one might find themselves in if they were tumbling down a hill, ass over elbow (as the British say) — but it has since then also come to mean feeling lightheaded and hopelessly love-smitten, and both meanings work here, of course.

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The story here, written by Reckart — this was his thesis film at the National Film & Television School in the U.K. — concerns an older married couple, Walter and Madge, who have quite literally drifted apart from each other over the years, emotionally, and, as we see, they find themselves at polar opposites from one another.

What’s unique here is that they’re shown sharing the same house, the man living right side up, as you do, while his wife lives upside down, although to her, from her perspective on his ceiling, we see that he appears to be living on her ceiling.

They live separate, parallel lives, never talking, and barely acknowledge one another, and it seems that they’ve managed to exist like this for quite some time, and without causing too much trouble for their partner, sharing this metaphorically rich space, although it certainly seems like a difficult way to live, doesn’t it?

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Just imagine a couple who have decided to split, but still live under the same roof, like the 1981 Kathleen Turner/Michael Douglas movie The War of the Roses, the story of a married couple who choose to live under the same roof while going through a bitter divorce. Except, in this case, the couple don’t seem to be bitterly divorcing as much as refusing to change their points-of-view, their rigid perspectives, and so they find that the only way to make it work for them is to accept that the other is living upside-down on their ceiling.

Only, the husband Walter one day decides to reconnect with his ceiling-dwelling wife Madge, hoping to rekindle the feelings in her that he’s feeling again himself, which then forces them both to deal with their gravitationally-difficult differences of opinion.

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It’s a beautifully charming story made even more beautiful and charming by lovely touches like the abundance of “magic hour” lighting effects, and wonderful craftsmanship from everyone involved, including production design, sound design, special and visual FX, puppet fabrication and voice acting, Nigel Anthony as Walter and Rayyah McCaul as Madge.

In this interview from 2013, Reckart explained that the idea came to him after looking closely at Rembrandt’s painting The Philosopher in Meditation, in which a spiral staircase looks like it could be used by someone living on the ceiling to climb down to the floor.

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Reckart: “I noticed this and started imagining a film about someone living on the ceiling. This image summed up a lot of thoughts I had been having recently: the challenge of understanding someone from a different religion, political party, or culture; the way some spouses seem to expect their marriage to fuel itself by some miracle of perpetual motion; the difficulty of being in a long-distance relationship, which I was doing at the time… All of these ideas seemed to fold into the idea of a husband and wife separated by gravity.”

Head Over Heels has won lots of awards over the years, which you can see here.

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It was announced in April 2015, in Variety, that Reckart will be makiing his feature directing debut on Sony Pictures Animation’s CG toon The Lamb.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.