Baz Luhrmann's 1996 Romeo + Juliet debuted on the scuffed heels of early 90's grunge, a handful of years where understated dressing was an overstatement. Popularized (and subsequently mainstreamed) by Marc Jacobs, it's safe to say everyone remembers "the look" of the time: Flannel, flannel, flannel. Ripped, torn, shredded, and otherwise compromised fabric. Doc Martens. In other words, it was the tumults of a Seattle winter personified; the sad, failing light of a Northwest December mixed with gutters choked by rainwater and fallen leaves. Moreover, it was the bleak outlook of an entire generation of "slackers," a middle finger raised to the establishment, or The Man, or whomever was most convenient at the time.
Then along came Baz, the Australian filmmaker whose previous film, Strictly Ballroom, featured a highly stylized world drenched in saturation and bursting at the seams with color. Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, instead of ruminating in Seattle angst, presented a fictional locale whose far-flung references found themselves firmly entrenched in a brighter, sun-soaked world. From the hazy sepias of Havana to the chaotic smoggy entrails of California's Venice, Luhrmann's Verona Beach was truly like another planet; albeit a decaying and crumbling one. Nevertheless, it was immediately fascinating inasmuch as it was utterly different.
And his world didn't stop there: the characters themselves seemed to float on screen in a cloud of otherness, swathed as they were in slick leather (the Capulets) and unbuttoned florals (Montagues). Clothes whose timeliness seemed to ride in on the coattails of certain zeitgeist, but betrayed no specific year or season or trend in particular.
In other words, it was captivating, and remains so, even twelve years after its original theatrical release. Claire Danes' iconic angel costume as reflected in a glowing fish tank. The myriad religious artifacts and references. The flash and insouciance of the Capulet and the Montague boys. The final, electrifying scene whose wilting flowers are lit by neon crosses: All elements whose influence and felicitousness are as novel now as they were to an 8th grader living in the grey Northwest of post-Cobain 1996.