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A Visit to Peek Frean and Co.'s Biscuit Works (1906)

Not Rated | | Short, Documentary
A look at typical activities taking place in the Peek Frean factory: First, the workers get up steam, as supplies of milk and flour arrive. Sheets of dough are rolled, then cut, shaped, and... See full summary »

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A look at typical activities taking place in the Peek Frean factory: First, the workers get up steam, as supplies of milk and flour arrive. Sheets of dough are rolled, then cut, shaped, and readied for baking. The camera then continues to show further events throughout the work day. Written by Snow Leopard

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Short | Documentary


Not Rated






Also Known As:

Látogatás a Peek Frean sütigyárban See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Cricks & Martin Films See more »
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User Reviews

A strangely hypnotic look at somber Edwardian factory workers who made cookies
31 May 2003 | by wmorrow59See all my reviews

There's no reason why this simple little documentary should be so fascinating, but so help me, it is. It consists of several minutes' worth of silent, black & white footage showing solemn employees of the Peek Freans & Co. Biscuit Works --still in existence, by the way-- as they go about the serious business of making biscuits. At one point there's a fire scare, and the fire department shows up, but it turns out to have been a false alarm. Work resumes, and in the morning, trucks filled with tins of freshly-baked biscuits roll away down the cobble-stone streets.

And that's it, that's the entire show, but it's absolutely mesmerizing. I'm quite sincere in saying this, so I'll try to explain why I believe this brief documentary (available as part of a larger collection of early works called "The Movies Begin") is so interesting.

For starters, it's beautifully photographed. Every shot is carefully lit and several are exquisitely composed, especially the last shots depicting the promenade of wagons leaving the factory at the end of the work cycle, early in the morning. The elaborate factory machinery is quite fascinating to look at, and it's surprising to see how many people were required to keep those cookie-making wheels turning. The workers themselves go about their business rather gravely, rolling out the dough, cleaning the tins, etc., some of them dressed in clothes (derbies, vests, etc.) which to our eyes look quaintly stylish but inappropriately formal for this sort of work. These people take their work seriously and their dignity is apparent, even after a century.

And then there's the subtext: we observe these people as the still-new machinery of cinema invades their everyday world. Most of the workers try to ignore the filmmakers, although one little boy (forget about child labor laws in 1906!) can't help but glance curiously into the lens a couple of times, while another young man, something of a blade with slicked-down hair, grins fixedly right at us, still working, but as hypnotized by the camera as we are by him. But for the most part the workers go about their business as if the cameras were invisible, perhaps a little intimidated by the introduction of this new technology into their workplace.

The version of this film presented in "The Movies Begin" is backed by simple piano accompaniment which takes on a somewhat triumphant tone towards the end, as the tins of biscuits are loaded into the wagons and shipped out to a biscuit-hungry public. There's something just a trifle absurd about it, yet stirring, too, suggestive of those American W.P.A. murals of the '30s: The Triumph of the Heroic Workers Baking the People's Biscuits. I'm not being snide, I think this is a great film, and a valuable document of a vanished time. But thanks in part to the music there's an understated humor in the finale that doesn't undercut or negate the power of what we've seen.

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