Interview with Director
Mark Pellington and
Music Supervisor Liza Richardson
The Mothman Prophecies is a rarity: a stylish, esoteric chiller on the themes of subjectivity and fear. Anyone hunting for a torch-waving showdown with a giant mutant will hate this film badly.

But it’s actually one of the most subversive genre pictures from a studio in recent memory, with strong human performances from Richard Gere, Laura Linney and Debra Messing.

The book by John A. Keel has been a cult item for years. Billed as based on actual events, it tells of a small West Virginia town bedeviled by a presence that foretells disaster with inhuman accuracy.

The Mothman Prophecies is the third feature film from veteran commercial and music video director Mark Pellington, best known for his work with bands like Pearl Jam and U2. From its tranquilizing opening credits to its catastrophic resolution, the film relies on Pellington’s virtuoso application of film score and sound design.

“One of the reasons I did the movie Mothman was because of all the sound capabilities in it,” Pellington said recently from his office in Hollywood. “I wanted something eerie but beautiful, warm but disturbing.”

Pellington worked with music supervisor Liza Richardson, a longtime programmer and DJ at public radio powerhouse KCRW in Santa Monica; with sound designer Claude Letessier (The Thin Red Line); and with the composers known as tomandandy (Waking The Dead).

Distinct from many MTV graduates, Pellington’s style induces a sort of alert receptivity instead of a migraine headache. The result is an unusual mirage of sound and storyline that alternately provokes and soothes the viewer’s anxiety. Since we catch only glimpses of the picture’s title character and central enigma, the film’s sonic dimension proves especially important.

“When I started to do movies, I was blown away how little people considered sound, and how sound was considered an afterthought,” Pellington says, adding that his favored method of creating mood and emotion has always been to cut picture to sound, not the reverse.

“Mark is why the music turns out the way it does,” says Liza Richardson from a sound stage in Los Angeles. “He gets me on (the film) very early and he uses music on the set to inspire what the actors are feeling. I have a Mark Pellington section in my mind… dark, ominous, obscure underground things that are anywhere between orchestral, digital noise, ambience. Mark is really drawn to the emotional value of music.”

The film’s double-CD soundtrack (Lakeshore Records) features one disc devoted to the tomandandy score and the second featuring haunting music by underground luminaries Low, King Black Acid and noise-master Glen Branca.

If the film sets up a Rorschach Test for viewers, then likewise the responses have been all over the map.

“There’s rabid, rabid people who seem to love it. Then like any movie, there are people on the internet, and critically, and in screenings that are just like, Ugh. It’s fucking horrible!” Pellington says, more amused than offended.

“I realize if you’re going to make anything that’s not straight down the middle, you’re going to get a polarized reaction to it. One person’s irritation is another person’s intoxicant, you know?”

As for his own tastes, Pellington praises the artful ambiguity of David Lynch. “I love Mulholland Drive. That just opened me up to the possibility of a movie as a dream and an experience.”

With The Mothman Prophecies and Mulholland Drive, each picture delivers more than high tone visuals and hypnotic sound. It’s a step forward, from the familiar into the unfamiliar. With the Mothman, you get the sense that we have entered the domain of the post-creature feature.

Now available on DVD.

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