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HONEST ABE NOT HAPPIEST CAMPER.

Byline: David Kronke TV Critic

JUST A THEORY, but maybe any given portrait of Abraham Lincoln reflects at least as much on the person assembling it as it does on Lincoln himself.

The late C.A. Tripp's controversial biography, ``The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln,'' argued principally that the man who freed the slaves was gay. Doris Kearns Goodwin's current best seller, ``A Team of Rivals,'' focuses, on Lincoln's acute ability in a time of political division to diplomatically unite men of wildly differing political sensibilities. The approaches suggest the author's agendas.

So what to make of Vikram Jayanti, director/producer of the History Channel's new documentary, ``Lincoln,'' which dwells almost morbidly on the president's severe depression? Should we worry for him? Should we lock him in a sanatorium and take away his belt and shoestrings?

Jayanti, who worked in production capacities on the Oscar-winning documentaries ``When We Were Kings'' and ``Born Into Brothels,'' gets his experts to dwell almost exclusively on Lincoln's abject state of mind at any given time, almost to the exclusion of his accomplishments. ``Lincoln'' immerses itself more in his bullying father, the early death of a childhood sweetheart, his troubled marriage and a poem he writes about suicide than it does in the Emancipation Proclamation. Only the final, third hour of the film dwells on his presidency - and even that devotes almost 10 minutes to the devastating death of his son Willie.

The film opens with an account of Lincoln's premonition that he would die in office and, as the otherwise fairly chronological film relates his life story, returns repeatedly to the otherwise uneventful final day of his life. One supposes that there are so many Lincoln biographies out there that this is a new, if melodramatic way of approaching things, but it makes for an awfully one-sided, disjointed enterprise.

Here's a sampling of the comments Jayanti gets from his assortment of historians and experts:

--``Lincoln's eyes always seemed fixed on the future, and the future always seemed terrible.''

--``I don't think Lincoln could've been the president he was without going through the dark night of the soul.''

--Even Lincoln's keen mind is taken to task: ``Intelligence can wreak havoc with the mind.''

--``You begin to feel you can't focus - your hearing is going, your vision is narrowing, your whole physical self is caving in - as if the solid flesh is melting away, and that's where you feel, 'I have to kill myself.' ''

What is this, a Lincoln bio or an episode of ``Oprah''?

Even Lincoln's final night on the town takes on ominous overtones: ``Was it an act of a man who somehow felt he was hurtling toward his destiny?'' Perhaps the intent is to humanize Lincoln, but the effect tends to be a tabloidization of the man - his wit, for one, is almost eradicated. Nonetheless, the facts of his extraordinary life ensures that this remains absorbing viewing.

And, for the last time: Please, stop with the cheesy period re-enactments. ``Lincoln'' boasts, among other things, a less-than-compelling point-of-view shot of Lincoln pouring water in a bowl and splashing his face. There are also swirling shots of clamoring constituents and wartime ball-goers and, particularly amusingly, blandly lurid shots of women of ill repute. These things invariably feel utterly inauthentic, mainly because they're always so poorly staged and acted, and they always seem to budge well-intentioned films from straightforward documentaries to something, well, more whimsical and dubious.

David Kronke, (818) 713-3638

david.kronke(at)dailynews.com

LINCOLN - Two and one half stars

What: Documentary focusing on the 16th president's severe depression.

Where: History Channel.

When: 8 tonight.

In a nutshell: Kind of monochromatic.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

``Lincoln'' is almost exclusively concerned with the president's mental state.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 16, 2006
Words:625
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