Breaking and Entering: On Guinness Winners and Random Achievement


The drive to build order and meaning into our lives is constant; it’s the concepts themselves that seem to change with the times. Since 1955, when the first Guinness Book of Records was published, the definition of what’s valued in our culture has expanded like the waistline of the world’s fattest lady to accommodate those willing to trade large portions of their time to be recognized for largely random achievements. Breaking and Entering, Benjamin Fingerhut’s survey of a host of such modern titans of the tiresome, does a fair, if sometimes frustratingly oblique, job of illustrating just how much the pursuit of the random—from the guy who rips phone books to the one who catches grapes in his mouth—means to his subjects. He focuses on three would-be record breakers: a marathoning juggler, or “joggler”; the aforementioned grape guy; and an aging peacock determined to prove his worth by chapping his ass on a stationary bike for 100 straight hours. The latter embodies galaxies of grim pathos, and ultimately admits that his cold, discouraging parents set him down the path to suffering for what begins to feel—across the film’s dissonantly cheerful board—like a terrifyingly small slice of fame.