Karl Frid on the sacred and the profane of “Pleasure”

Karl Frid (Pleasure)

The Swedish composer breaks down his hypnotic score for Ninja Thyberg’s unblinking look at the adult film industry.

Welcome to Right on Cue, the podcast where we interview film, TV, and video game composers about the origins and nuances of their latest works.

Films about sex are rare, films about porn even rarer. And when they do arrive, more often than not they’re one-handed, moralistic tales of the subjugation and exploitation women experience in the porn industry. Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure, which we reviewed out of Sundance 2021 and is hitting wide release in America today, is more nuanced and complicated than that.

Following a newly-arrived transplant from Sweden named Jessica (Sofia Kappel), who’s landed in LA to break into porn, Pleasure refreshes by viewing this star-is-born narrative through the female gaze, and a surprising frankness about the need for consent and the complex power dynamics that happen for women in porn. Yes, there are the leering, predatory men for whom Thyberg’s camera acts as their eye, gazing upon Jessica (who enters the industry under the nom de plume Bella Cherry) with all the ravenous hunger of the Big Bad Wolf. But as she learns more about her boundaries (and which ones she’ll have to break to make it), Thyberg allows Bella to find a sense of power and assertiveness from time to time.

Rather than vilifying or valorizing the adult film industry, Pleasure simply becomes a frank, dreamlike character study of how one woman navigates it, and finds her own avenues for pleasure and confidence even as it threatens to consume her.  

Aiding that is the idiosyncratic score from Swedish composer Karl Frid, one half of the fraternal duo Frid & Frid with his brother Par. An experienced hand at Swedish film and television, Frid takes to this score with remarkable grace and inventiveness, charting Bella’s voice between the twin poles of sacred opera and head-banging hip hop — two contrasting sounds that operate as distinct expressions of Bella’s own voice and confidence, intertwining in some of the film’s most eye-opening moments. 

Centering female voices in the score, whether through soprano Caroline Gentele’s operatic tones, or rapper-singer Mapei’s aggressive, empowering lyrics, helps craft a musical universe within Bella’s psyche, as well as the complex, morally grey universe of Pleasure.  

Frid sat down with me to talk about how he was introduced to the project, finding that balance between the film’s complex, contrasting tones, and locking down the spiritual narration of Bella’s journey through the twin voices of the music.  

You can find Frid & Frid at their official website here.

Pleasure comes to theaters May 13th. You can also listen to the score on your preferred music streaming service courtesy of Frid & Frid and Sony Music.

CategoriesRight on Cue
Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Spool, as well as one of the founders of the website/podcast Alcohollywood in 2011. He is also a Senior Writer at Consequence of Sound, as well as the co-host/producer of Travolta/Cage. You can also find his freelance work at IndieWire, UPROXX, Syfy Wire, The Takeout, and Crooked Marquee.

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