No longer being a lefty idealist fixated on the glamour of hurling petrol bombs against “the man” and supporting causes despite the most rudimentary of research, it’s harder to atone for the fact that ’70s terrorism maintains a certain chic. True freedom might belong to those willing to get their hands dirty, but there’s plenty who’d rather keep ’em clean but admire the outfits from afar.
It’s a sad fact, but watching the ‘Battle of Algiers’ nowadays, we’re more inspired to bust out some referential quasi-rebellious screenprints or riff on the attractive spirit of late ’60s Parisian brick throwing in an art gallery environment. Kenneth Mackenzie’s excellent 6876 referenced that imagery nicely on its debut and Unabomber had their moments. Revolutionaries seemed to have nice outfits before the influx of those thick stripe crewneck sweaters and white dreads. In the western world, they’ve forsaken style altogether. Elsewhere it’s all facial hair and wild eyes, no finesse. It’s not going to make the catwalks.
This isn’t some dissection on the distinction between terrorism and freedom fighter. It’s just about the aesthetics. There’s a certain beauty in the ’70s utilitarian uniform of tactically executed mayhem. Back before the Manic Street Preachers morphed into Mondeo music, James Dean Bradfield’s balaclava-wearing Top of the Pops appearance performing ‘Faster’ was some invigorating post-dinner TV. James knew. FUCT’s Symbionese Liberation Army sweatshirt and tee knows that Donal DeFreeze had swagger. Another brand stocked in the Hideout (all answers to what the mystery brand was in the comments here are welcome) created a nifty spin on the BMW logo using RAF. If you grew up in an era where the news dwelled on Belfast murals, Joe Strummer wore a Brigate Rosse t-shirt and the Democratic Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Arabistan getting the SAS treatment at the Iranian Embassy, terrorist attire is probably embedded in your psyche.
Then there’s Ilich Ramírez Sánchez aka. Carlos the Jackal. Strangely iconic in that puffy-faced mugshot, with the goggle glasses and hefty sideburns, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine member seems to fire imaginations more than most. It’s the length between capture and that nickname that does it. His face seems to represent a certain era of global terrorism with extra tales jammed weaponry, some heavy scheming and a lot of globetrotting.
On film he’s been the villain, but Olivier Assayas’ 5 hour plus epic ‘Carlos’ fleshes the character out a lot, albeit with a fair amount of fiction. Having watched the first episode, charting the lead up to the OPEC raid, it’s slick, well-crafted television. If you’re expecting lots of side partings, sweating, set pieces, bungled raids, vintage cars and squealing getaways, you won’t be disappointed. Whether Ilich changes in attire and mannerisms over the next few episodes remains to be seen, but for all the violence — and this is frequently bloody — it makes the Jackal look very cool. Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez is appropriately intense in the lead and thanks to Francoise Clavel’s work in the wardrobe department, she makes this vicious individual look almost aspirational in appearance.
If you saw Uli Edel’s ‘Der Baader Meinhof Komplex’ laden with beautiful people wielding assault rifles, zipping around in collectible Beemers, consider this a companion piece. There’s a message here, but it’s easy to get lost in all the nihilistic glamour on offer. Women nibbling on grenades? Berets looking good? It’s here. The first few minutes, where the besuited subject exits a plane and then a motorbike, with a holdall slung over his shoulder could be a ‘Monocle’ shoot in motion. This entire episode, the first of 3, could have been some bloody, politicized video lookbook.While there’s a German film-length edit of ‘Carlos’ in existence, the mini-series, at least on first impression, is well worth your time. Curious how we can be drawn to those we should fear, like some stylistic Stockholm syndrome.
It’s not just the clothes. It’s the banners and typewritten manifestos. Take the time to read it and you’ll find cowardly rhetoric steeped in narcissism and flimsy justification for cold-blooded slaughter. To admire the clothes of killers is pretty much the apex of twattery, yet it’s a tough habit to break. Despite the flattering looks, Sánchez himself is livid, fuming at the portrayal, and claiming it’s harming his defence in the recently reignited trial over a series of bombings. You can’t please everyone, all the time. While the real Carlos is looking a little less iconic these days, Ramirez restores the look to the point of sartorial distraction.