In an epic, 5 1/2-hour documentary that sweeps across Europe in time and space, the late director Konrad Wolf (who died before the last of six segments could be completed) has focused on the life and times of one of Germany's most talented singers and actors, Ernst Busch (1900-1980). Part one provides the historical setting of the first 20 years of Busch's life: the 1905 and 1917 revolutions in Russia, World War II, and the beginning of the Weimar Republic -- he certainly could not have been born in a more turbulent time. Although he started out in a working-class family and began to make a living as a metalworker himself, Busch was clearly endowed with an outstanding voice and a great wit that excelled in creating the sharply etched humor of his lyrics. During the next 15 years of his life, Busch becomes involved in concerts and stage and screen performances, beginning in 1927 when he arrives in Berlin and ending in 1933 when he leaves Germany.
Between 1935 and 1937, the third segment of Busch's career takes him to London and Moscow where his clever, biting lyrics attacking the fascist disease spreading through Europe are set opposite segments from Nazi propaganda documentaries. The fourth part of his life was spent helping the International Brigade and the Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War. Busch made an album at this time titled "Canciones de las Brigadas Internacionales," used as a musical backdrop for interviews with eyewitness accounts of the war, and with some historical footage and still shots of that time. After that experience, the fifth segment of the documentary handles Busch's escape from a French prison, only to be recaptured and imprisoned in Brandenberg after a trial in Berlin -- where he miraculously escapes a death sentence because the judges could not get their hands on any of his recordings or his lyrics, to determine the extent of his "subversive" activities. Finally, Busch is liberated in 1945 by the advancing Soviet Army. In the sixth and last segment, the objective was to summarize the entire post-war period through Busch's work at the Berliner Ensemble. This segment, however, was not completed before director Wolf's untimely death at the age of 56. ~ Eleanor Mannikka, Rovi