PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Powerful Documentary 'Marathon Boy' at the DocYard on 16 April

The documentary takes a step beyond the obvious argument against child abuse (in multiple forms), to consider the ongoing effects of poverty and celebrity, ambition and despair, effects that aren't as disparate as you'd first guess.

"Once upon a time," Marathon Boy begins, "In a faded corner of India, a poor man and a slum-boy captured the hearts and souls of the rural masses." The fairy tale structure evoked by this phrasing is reinforced by the documentary's particulars: the child Budhia Singh, born into desperate poverty in a Bhubaneswar slum, is sold by his mother Sukanti to a door peddler, and then to Biranchi Das and his wife Gita, keepers of a judo hall. The boy reveals a talent and a passion for running, which Biranchi encourages and exploits: by the time Budhia is four years old, he has run in some 48 marathons, appeared in a number of commercials, and been celebrated around the nation. Almost immediately, their story takes expected and unexpected turns, triumphs and betrayals that lead eventually to murder.

These shifts in fortune are captured in Gemma Atwal's remarkable film -- screening on 16 April at The DocYard -- initiated in 2006, when Budhia was still just four and the Child Welfare Committee in Orissa is taking an interest. The movie tracks not only Budhia's extraordinary running, in shots long and close, over rural roads and city streets, but also the publicity campaign Biranchi wages in order to hang on to his young star, his appearances on TV, interviews in which he insists on his commitment to "social justice" (comparing what he's doing to the notorious abuses of other Indian five-year-olds, "breaking stones in quarries" and "cutting firewood and selling it") and doesn't quite talk about how sponsors support Budhia's efforts to make it to the Olympics. Interviews with such sponsors and a sympathetic journalist are set against others with state authorities, who eventually forbid the child's participation in grueling races -- even when, as Biranchi devises, the boy will be walking instead of running. If you don't quite anticipate what happens, you can guess the story can't end well. But still, the documentary takes a step beyond the obvious argument against child abuse (in multiple forms), to consider the ongoing effects of poverty and celebrity, ambition and despair, effects that aren't as disparate as you'd first guess.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.