The first major crush I ever had on a movie star was at age 14. It began on the evening of Christmas Eve, 1995: BBC2 were showing the recent French historical epic La Reine Margot and I got my first glimpse of the utterly luminous Isabelle Adjani. I was quite a big fan of foreign films at the time largely due to the high nudity content — which in the pre-internet porn age made them a major draw for a whole generation of horny teenagers — but also because having grown up in a council house in Glasgow they were a form of escapism for me, opening up whole new worlds of sophistication and providing a glimpse into the countless, exotic pleasures that I deludedly expected were to be my due during my adult years.
I was especially fond of French films: they tended to have the most carefree, uninhibited and the most beautiful heroines. But nothing prepared me for the impact that seeing Adjani in that film would have on me on my young hormonal self. Watching that film for the first time on Christmas Eve — and afterwards repeatedly on VHS — I found her beauty and screen presence staggering. She had an ageless look about her, great big teary brown eyes, smooth high cheekbones, exquisite lips, and pale, porcelain white skin. She represented the type of tragic beauty which I found the most compelling of all, since for me beauty and suffering have always been tightly bound up together.
Up till then I had always been a little sceptical about beauty as a concept. There were plenty of women or girls, whether onscreen or in real life, that I found sexually attractive or pretty, but pretty wasn’t enough for me, more than anything, I wanted that experience of being floored by beauty, to really fall in love with someone who was an image of perfection, an ideal. And Adjani provided that for me: I was absolutely dazzled. A few days later after Christmas, I went to the city centre and scoured the bookshops for film guides to learn as much as I could about her. The sort of information search that would take me a matter of minutes now took up a whole afternoon back then. Of all the things I learned the one that surprised me the most was her age. Her birthday was 1955 and so she was 40 or thereabouts: but I would have scarcely put her past 30.
I was desperate to see her other films. They weren’t easy to come by, those that I managed to find in the art house/world cinema section of my local video store were prohibitively expensive. But in the coming months I did manage to see quite a few of them and as much as I enjoyed her earlier movies, and grew to appreciate her as an actress, I thought that she was too skinny when she was younger, that she had still to grow into her looks. She never looked as good to me as she had in La Reine Margot
My infatuation lasted a couple of years more but gradually it wore off, though a deep and abiding affection for Adjani remained. A few years later, once I’d gotten over the crush and I was looking over the films again I began to wonder what all the fuss had been about. Yes, she was a beautiful woman, but I was at a little bit of a loss to see why she had provoked such a reaction: I began to see it as just so much teenage foolishness. As I grow older though I almost begin to envy the younger self that could so easily and so precipitiously fall for a screen image. It was my version of what most girls go through with the latest teen pop pinups, I guess, and I’m glad I went through it myself.