The 1990s was an incredibly vital and exciting decade for American independent cinema. Who can forget the world-weary nihilism, the effortless cool, the ironic pop culture references, the stylistic experimentation, and the prodigious violence? Better yet, who can forget the hairdos, makeup, and fashions sported by actors back then? Jason Rail knows this world better than anyone because he was there. He served as a makeup artist and hairstylist on a number of modestly budgeted slacker classics from the Bill Clinton years, including Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation and Nowhere. Put simply, Rail might be the most ’90s person who has ever lived. Today, though no longer active in motion pictures, he is still a mobile hairdresser in San Francisco. Better yet, Rail saved a lot of his grunge era Polaroids, many featuring ’90s celebs, in a shoebox. And now he’s sharing them on his incredible Instagram account. Recently, he spoke with Vice’s Hannah Ongley about those photographs, his experiences in the indie film scene, and his memories of working with people like Rose McGowan and Parker Posey.
In his heady, the interview reveals, Rail’s responsibilities extended beyond mere makeup and hair. He was, by his own account, “like a psychiatrist or an emotional babysitter” for the oft-temperamental, oft-inexperienced actors in these films. His formula was simple: He listened patiently to their problems while refraining from talking about his own. “They don’t care,” he says bluntly. Whatever he did must have worked. Rail says that even performers who were known to be difficult were “super sweet to me, because of that personal relationship.” Along the way, Rail also managed to create some of the decade’s most iconic looks, chief among them McGowan’s bob in The Doom Generation. But wasn’t that look stolen from Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction? Well, Rail has a story about that:
The funny thing about that, I’m not even kidding you—three days after we finished filming [The Doom Generation], 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 afterward was like, “Oh that’s so cool, you were inspired by Pulp Fiction.” I was like, “Nooo!”
Those who came of age in this era should prepare for a nostalgia-gasm when sifting through Rail’s faded Polaroids. It doesn’t get much more ’90s than, say, a shot of Posey with Marilyn Manson at the premiere of House Of Yes.