Deep Google searches on the phrase “Take Ivy” often return an image of a mysterious green VHS cassette with art from illustrator Kazuo Hozumi — evoking fantasties that the mythic 1965 film was once available as a commercial release. Six months ago, a former VAN Jacket employee handed me this very videotape after cleaning out his closet and told me to figure out what it was. This was exciting — a lost relic of Japanese Ivy history!
The text on the cover revealed that the video was actually from 1984, made for the 30th anniversary of Men’s Club magazine. I pulled my VCR out of storage to do a proper screening.
After watching the entire video, I can report back that Take Ivy 1984 is the trad equivalent of Al Capone’s vault — 59 minutes of nothing.
Publisher Fujingaho hired a film crew in the summer of 1983 to tour all eight campuses, shoot the dozen or so students still around, and then edit together the footage of them walking, talking, eating, reading, and studying over bad AOR muzak. For a mere ¥12,800 — $120 in today’s dollars adjusting for inflation — Japanese teens would finally get the opportunity to watch long static shots of real-life college juniors read The Dartmouth. Take Ivy 1984 manages to be boring even in fast-forward.
The problem with Take Ivy 1984, however, goes beyond the production values: No one actually wants to watch a “Take Ivy”-type project made after the year 1965. The idea of documenting Ivy League campus fashion is predicated on there being a unique fashion on those campuses worth veneration. Take Ivy 1984 is further proof that the hippie style-apocalypse set back the Ivies to a year-zero from which they never truly recovered.
At least the hippies had a style — by 1984, there does not seem to be a distinct system of campus dress at all. In the video, students wear short-shorts and ringer tees no different than the average frisbee-thrower at UCLA. For every Harvard student in a tuxedo, there’s a guy in a gag tuxedo-print T-shirt. Even the frat guys in madras and khakis manage to make the classic Ivy uniform look schlumpy.
The video does celebrate a few regional quirks of East Coast style — displays of tassel loafers at a men’s shop and many worn-down Sperry’s Top-Siders boat shoes in dorm rooms. And if the crew had shot in autumn rather than summer, they would have likely captured a strong Birnachian Preppie moment. From a larger perspective, however, 1984 looks very close in the spirit to the dressed-down 1994, 2004, or 2014. The decades since 1965 have made for bland years to photograph students in front of Sever or Nassau Hall.
But for all of its faults, Take Ivy 1984 does reveal a side of the Ivy League completely lost in the original Take Ivy book’s over-romanticization. The campuses were never just lush green quads, Georgian brick classrooms, and marble columnated libraries where dapper men roamed in pursuit of lost gentlemanly arts. There has always been a crushing ennui in the American college experience, present in every bland dormitory common area, industrialized cafeteria food, and library corner where stressed young adults read through endless stacks of materials for section. If 1965’s Take Ivy was a document of the Ivy League in its most idealized glory, 1984 Take Ivy strips away the style to peer deep into the sober reality of the American university. “The boredom! … The boredom!” — W. DAVID MARX
David Marx is a writer living in Tokyo. His first book, Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style, will arrive from Basic Books in Fall 2015. His writing has appeared in GQ, Brutus, Nylon, the Harvard Lampoon, and Best Music Writing 2009, among other publications.