this hair stylist kept his 90s cult film polaroids in a shoebox for two decades
Jason Rail created iconic looks for the young stars of 'The Doom Generation' and 'Nowhere.' 20 years later, he's posting his set life Polaroids to Instagram.
Photography Jason Rail
There's a polaroid on Jason Rail's Instagram of Parker Posey standing in front of an "OBEY" sign on a tin foiled wall wearing a teased platinum wig, heart-shaped sunglasses, and deep cherry lipstick. It was taken on the set of Gregg Araki's 1995 cult classic The Doom Generation, a film Rail found himself doing hair and makeup on after being plucked from the set of Mod Fuck Explosion a few months earlier. The look, though not as iconic as the slick bob he created for a 16-year-old Rose McGowan, will forever be associated with the film's greatest line: "I'm gonna lob his dick off like a chicken head." Posey and Rail are still close friends, but until recently the photo spent two decades sitting in a shoebox alongside other lost images of the 90s indie film world: Posey and Marilyn Manson at the House of Yes premiere after-party in 1997, an 18-year-old McGowan on the first day of filming Araki's Nowhere, and the cast of Clockwatchers (1998) eating craft service sandwiches off red plastic trays. These are peppered with candid moments from the 90s heyday of New York Fashion Week and downtown nightlife.
"I don't even have a smartphone," Rail tells me over the phone from San Francisco, where he now works as a mobile hairdresser in the city. He has an iPad though, and used it to get his photos from the shoebox to Instagram. "What I want to do eventually is to get a coffee table book together," he says, a request voiced frequently by random commenters who have stumbled across his account. We talked to Rail about being an "emotional babysitter" for problematic teenage actresses and shooting the infamous Doom Generation movie poster with McGowan wearing a dime store wig.
You must have been very close with a lot of these people. The photos have such a laid-back vibe compared to a lot of other "candids" you see on Instagram.
With a lot of kids now who want to do makeup, it's like, "Look how fierce I am — turning this beautiful girl into a fantasy." For me, that's true, and if the lighting is good, and it's a great set, and everything else falls into place — yay! But the thing that they don't realize is that you're almost like a psychiatrist or an emotional babysitter, because you are the last person the actor or actress sees before they go onto set. So if you're complaining about rent and your boyfriends and your sick cat, you can bum people out and they can get annoyed. People don't realize that you're kind of in charge of feeling people out. If it's a comedy, everyone's generally in a pretty good mood. But if it's an independent film there's always someone getting killed or fucked up. I remember this one actress in particular, she was like, "Oh my god, please don't even look at me." Her character was getting sexually assaulted, and she was like, "You can't talk to me, you make me smile too much."
The hair and makeup in Doom Generation is iconic. Rose McGowan's blunt bob especially.
The funny thing about that, I'm not even kidding you — three days after we finished filming that, I was still down in L.A., and I remember driving past the first billboard for Pulp Fiction. It was Uma Thurman lying on a bed reading a diary or something. She had that black bob, and even though Rose's hair in Doom Generation was not black, it still looked dark, and it was a bob! So everybody afterwards was like, "Oh that's so cool, you were inspired by Pulp Fiction." I was like, "Nooo!" But I remember one day I Googled "bob haircuts" and Rose from Doom Generation and Parker from House of Yes came up. I was like, "Oh, yay!" What was most fun for me, back in those days, was actually being a part of the process and speaking with Gregg [Araki], or whoever the director might have been, about the character's personality and background and finances. It was interesting to have that dialogue with directors because then they get more into the character too. Towards the end of my film career, it just became, "Make sure she looks pretty." There was no conversation.
It's funny you talk about being a babysitter of sorts — some of these actors were so young at the time.
Oh my god, yeah. I had a reputation for getting along with some "problematic" actresses, like Rose, Annabella Sciorra, Penelope Ann Miller… For some reason they would be super sweet with me, because of that personal relationship, but they would be purposely rude to other people. I had to try to distance myself from that. Like I said before, if you have a toothache, or you're late on your credit card payment, they don't care. You have to listen to their problems, like "Oh my god, there was a yellow part in my egg whites and I couldn't eat it," and be like, "How did you make it through that day?!" It's one of those parts of the job that they don't really train you for. Sometimes you have a handful, and you have to pacify them, and sometimes you have lump of clay, and you have to animate them.
How did you end up working on these films?
I had a bunch of friends when I was younger that were already hairdressers, and were a couple of years older than me, and they were all apprenticing at Vidal Sassoon. The owner at the time was Christopher Brooker, he was coming over from London and he was going to stay at the San Francisco salon. It coincided with the time that my friends were apprenticing there. I was always the model for whatever crazy perm or hair color they were doing. I got to be friendly with the owners, and Christopher ended up sending me to the Vidal Sassoon Academy in L.A. I had a friend whose hair I cut and colored, and he worked at a clothing boutique on Haight Street. This girl came in who was doing a punk rock film, and needed some clothes for her character and needed to get her hair done. She was like, "I like yours — who did your hair?" They had me color her hair to look like she'd done it herself. They had no budget but I just loved it. The woman who was producing was doing a movie down in L.A. in a couple of months and asked me if I would be interested, and it was Doom Generation.
What was your life like back then? Were you a club kid?
Yeah, that's the thing that was fun too, because I used to stay at the Chelsea Hotel a lot with my best friend Zaldy and his friend Mathu Andersen. Zaldy is a designer and Matthew does RuPaul's hair and makeup still. Then being friends with Susanne Bartsch and all that crew, and going to the clubs — actually last night I went out with Richie Rich, so that was fun. I'll be posting a picture of that later. The 90s were just so freeing. The irony of being accepted and mingling with the normal people is that everything just sort of gets gentrified.
How involved were you in the fashion world at that time? I saw you posted something from the Vivienne Westwood show that was Gwen Stefani's first fashion show.
Yeah, I worked on the hair at that show. I used to work with a guy called Danilo, who does Gwen Stefani's hair, so I would come over from San Francisco to do hair for fashion week. I would turn into a Japanese schoolgirl around those models. I would name every campaign they had done, what country they were from, what agency they were at. I would get so starstruck. With actresses, I couldn't care less — they're doing their job, I'm doing mine. But models I would get crazy for. Especially at that time — my favorite was the Todd Oldham shows, and to see Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Christy Turlington all walking on that stage. I could only imagine some acid head flipping out at a Led Zeppelin concert experiencing the same level of excitement.
Text Hannah Ongley
Photography Jason Rail