Oscars 2023: ‘The Martha Mitchell Effect’ review

By Roshni D’Souza

American Netflix’s original documentary ‘The Martha Mitchell Effect’ has earned enough recognition to be nominated for the Oscars this year.

Oscars nomination usually makes one wonder why a certain film is picked over another. There has been a long debate about why Superhero films are never nominated for the Oscars, and international movies like ‘Parasite’ only recently got their due.

There’s this thing about documentaries: the amount of footage you have depends on the time the documentary is set in. Perhaps that is why the makers of ‘The Tiger King’ had enough to make a series on it, and the fact that the documentary’s subjects had YouTube videos of themselves was a bonus.

But what if the documentary was set in the 1970s? How does one make it as compelling as possible with whatever little they have?

This question could probably be answered by ‘The Martha Mitchell Effect,’ a documentary film about the wife of John Mitchell who played a huge role in exposing the Watergate scandal.

It’s even more difficult to ascertain the reasoning behind choosing a documentary, because there’s no compelling performance, nor creative fiction. In fact, that’s very little the maker’s can do in terms of creativity. Looking at ‘The Martha Mitchell Effect,’ however, might help us shed light on what makes an Oscar-worthy documentary.

[To keep updated with the Oscars, read our ‘Babylon’ review]

The Martha Mitchell Effect is a psychological term in which a medical professional misdiagnoses a patient, labelling them as delusional. But later, their delusion turns out to be true.

At the start of the movie, we see Martha and John’s happy married life in pictures and clips. Martha being outgoing and John being popular himself helped here.

But later, there wasn’t enough to work with in terms of footage. Here visual effects played an important role. In one picture, there was a zoom-in on Nixon having a serious discussion. Then there was a zoom-out to show Martha laughing with her mouth open at the side.

This same effect is used later in the documentary when Martha begins accusing Nixon of hiding secrets. There’s a zoom-in on the report about Martha’s suspicion, then a zoom-out on the whole of the paper, showing that the report was in a small corner at the bottom. It highlights the way she was neglected.

At the same time, the narrator called her a “Greek chorus of one.” The narrator in question was Bob Woodward, who along with Carl Bernstein uncovered Watergate.

The recordings of Nixon’s phone calls were also shown in a similar manner, with footage of him speaking on the phone. It is in these parts that the makers were able to use their creativity.

Although these factors may seem small, ultimately these kinds of things are what make the film worth watching. It’s what leads to an Oscar nomination for “Best Short Subject.” Like the one ‘The Martha Mitchell Effect” got this year.

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