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Most films set in Washington are not really set in Washington. They alternate a few shots of the monumental core with footage from LA, Baltimore, or even (in Timecop) Vancouver. Writer/producer Michael P. Rohr and director/producer Ed Bielaus’ American Skin, however, is really a Washington film. Populated largely by current or former employees of local clubs, this black-and-white punk-rock noir is firmly rooted in the Dischord/9:30 Club/Black Cat demimonde.
A strong sense of place—whether it’s Club Asylum, the Mount Vernon bike trail, the new U, or the long-closed-off grand staircase of the Atlantic Building—is the movie’s principal appeal. The acting is amateurish, while the overagitated plot tries to tie skinhead and drug-gang violence into a conspiracy as sweeping but perfunctory as those offered by most Hollywood thrillers. This is not, however, one of those movies where the story matters all that much.
Instead, Skin is a celebration of the D.C. scene and its denizens, including several (notably 9:30 Club employee Adam Rutland and Lucy Brown vocalist Gene Hawkins) who have since died. With Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses, Unrest, Thud, Holy Rollers, Clutch, Pitchblende, Tone, Slant 6, 9353, Blue Balls Deluxe, and more on the soundtrack, it’s also remarkably inclusive. There’s so much power here, in fact, that you have to wonder why the filmmakers felt the need to channel it into a fairly conventional cop-and-killers narrative.
Already shown once at the Biograph Theater in Georgetown, the film returns there for three more screenings Nov. 29 and 30 and Dec. 1 at 10:30 p.m.