“I was such a big VideoCity guy,” Petersen Vargas told us over video chat.
It’s a simple statement, but it brought out the irony of our connection—he was taking us back to the bygone era of video tapes, whirring VCDs, and scratched CDs. But he was saying it over Zoom, which has seemed to usher the new era of electric intimacy, especially in lockdown times.
“That was Pre-Netflix,” he explained. “You had to go to a store to rent VCDs.”
He recalled one entire summer spent rewatching a romantic comedy called “Little Manhattan”, a Mark Levin film about two kids’ first brush with romance. “That’s what really attracted me to movies in general.” Notice how his “that” could be anything—“that” as in VideoCity? That one summer? “Little Manhattan”?
“After that, I really longed for more.”
Asking a director what movies made him want to be a filmmaker is an impossible and unfair question, because a director’s filmography reflects not just his filmic upbringing, but the sentiments, memories, and specific archives of fluctuating desires he has come to recognize within himself and in relation to the world.
So, maybe by “that,” Petersen was (perhaps unknowingly) referring to something else, a combination of VideoCity days, of that unforgettable summer, and of “Little Manhattan”.
All these things—his tendency to articulate fragile nostalgia, to construct a time that feels “lost,” and to meditate upon the innocence of romance—are apparent in his films “Geography Lessons” and “2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten.”
His new BL series, “Hello Stranger” is far, far removed from those earlier works. It doesn’t have the same nostalgic bearings, and it’s very much set in the “now” as opposed to being a rumination of lost time. But like “Little Manhattan”, “Hello Stranger” chronicles a possible romance between two boys. Over Zoom, that is. But even without physical contact, the series feels fresh, intimate, and delicate. (Read our recaps of episodes one
, and three
.) Above all, the core romance feels fluid, like it could be anyone’s story
Amazingly, Petersen was able to transpose his signature style of intimacy to times of modernity, carefully depicting a kind of connection that yearns to blossom despite lack of touch. Take the poster for “Little Manhattan”, which depicts imminent contact—touching but not really, though about to. Longing, apprehension, and innocence in full display, just through a simple photograph of fingers.
“Touching but not really, though about to” is literally what “Hello Stranger” feels like. It has that gruesome, almost-there kind of romance, but with that, also the constant fear and shakiness of a will-they-won’t-they situation. It’s love at its most unstable, which is to say love at its most interesting.
“Little Manhattan” might be about a boy and a girl, but Petersen, who’s unafraid to brand himself a queer filmmaker, took that romance and declared, unapolotegitcally, that it should also apply to two boys, or two girls, or two anything.
That film might have made him “want” to be a director, but it didn’t make him a director. He made himself one.
More LGBT content coming your way!