The pleasure of the video documentary, Fasanella, comes in hearing the artist himself talk about his life and work. One also briefly sees him working at his easel and hears his brush against the canvas. It's fortunate that producer Glen Pearcy and crew had the foresight to record Ralph Fasanella while he was still painting. This outspoken, insightful artist died in 1997 at age 83.
Fasanella became consumed with painting in his thirties, after a successful career as a union organizer. In his paintings, he portrays scenes from his own New York City working-class experience, as well as labor history events. Building interiors and exteriors, composites of city landmarks, ads, even newspaper headlines crowd together on his canvases, defying literal perspective, but making emotional and symbolic sense. Nearly always, active masses of people fill these cityscapes.
The film begins with an overview of Fasanella's early career and commentary on his style, narrated by Julian Bond. This introduction, plus some later narration and archival film footage from the time during which he painted and the events he portrayed, provides important context for appreciating Fasanella's work. But wisely, the major part of the video's content is related by Fasanella himself.
The 22-minute length is practical for classroom or meeting presentations and coveys a broad overview of the artist's life and work. The abrupt ending to some sections is frustrating, and the weaving together of some sentences from interview plus classroom footage sometimes seems disjointed. These awkward edits may have been the result of Fasanella's free-ranging speaking style, which often leapt from subject to subject. However, many juxtapositions, such as those between his Ellis Island speech and his visit with the Maltese/Puerto Rican family living in his childhood home express Fasanella's holistic attitude.
Fasanella's continued passion for social justice is evident as he meets Chinese-born workers at a garment shop and advocates for contemporary immigrants. He makes a connection between their situation and the challenges faced by his parents, who came to America from Italy in 1914. He ends the video proclaiming that one must remember one's roots.
A forty-four-page Teachers' Activity Guide is a valuable resource. It contains a biographical sketch, activities, lesson plans and questions that promote a more in-depth understanding not only of Fasanella, but of unions, working-class history and culture, ethnicity, sociology, and art. The exercises aim for students to connect these concepts to their own lives and family backgrounds. The booklet also includes a directory of public locations where one [End Page 95] can see Fasanella's paintings and how to order poster and note card copies of his artwork.
Readers of Labor Studies Journal are likely to enjoy this film. The program is also suitable for use with middle and senior high school students, reinforced by the booklet activities appropriate to this age group. Whether the video is one's first exposure to the artist's work or the 100th, it is likely to stimulate audiences to seek out and gaze at the complex, exuberant world Ralph Fasanella created in his paintings.
Fasanella, produced by Glen Pearcy, may be ordered from: Communication Workers of America Education Department, 501 Third Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001-2797; phone 202-434-1131. Copies of the VHS tape and guide are free (according to a call to the above number), thanks to a grant from the Joseph A. Bierne Memorial Foundation, the Communication Workers of America Foundation.
University of Minnesota