The Law of the Looking Glass — 2008

Cinema in Poland, 1896–1939

By Sheila Skaff

“The originality of the book lies in its treatment of Polish cinema prior to World War II, about which very little has been written. Moreover, the author draws on considerable research in Polish-language sources, including various film publications, which few scholars have examined.”

Charles O’Brien, author of Cinema's Conversion to Sound: Technology and Film Style in France and the U.S.

The Law of the Looking Glass not only offers a comprehensive survey of film production during the period, but also examines it as a complex socio-cultural phenomenon that emerged and developed within specific political and historical circumstances.…an invaluable source for anybody interested in both Polish cinema and early cinema more generally.”

The Polish Review

“(Skaff) posits a cinema intent on transcending the ethnic divisions that marked interwar Poland. Her decision to pursue her emphasis on visuality in this direction yields a detailed, often eloquent and succinct summary and synthesis of current Polish-language research on early and interwar cinema.”

Slavic Review

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The Law of the Looking Glass: Cinema in Poland, 1896–1939 reveals the complex relationship between nationhood, national language, and national cinema in Europe before World War II. Author Sheila Skaff describes how the major issues facing the region before World War I, from the relatively slow pace of modernization to the desire for national sovereignty, shaped local practices in film production, exhibition, and criticism. She goes on to analyze local film production, practices of spectatorship in large cities and small towns, clashes over language choice in intertitles, and controversy surrounding the first synchronized sound experiments before World War I. Skaff depicts the creation of a national film industry in the newly independent country, the golden years of the silent cinema, the transition from silent to sound film—and debates in the press over this transition—as well as the first Polish and Yiddish “talkies.” She places particular importance on conflicts in majority-minority relations in the region and the types of collaboration that led to important films such as The Dybbuk and The Ghosts.

The Law of the Looking Glass: Cinema in Poland, 1896–1939 is the first comprehensive history of the country’s film industry before World War II. This history is characterized by alternating periods of multilingual, multiethnic production, on the one hand, and rejection of such inclusiveness, on the other. Through it all, however, runs a single unifying thread: an appreciation for visual imagery.

Picture of Sheila Skaff

Sheila Skaff is an assistant professor of film studies at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Cover of 'The Law of the Looking Glass'


  • The Sarmatian Review, Vol. XXIX, No. 3, Sept. 2009
  • Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 54, No. 4, Winter 2010
  • The Polish Review, LIV, No. 3, 2009
  • Slavic Review, Vol. 68, No. 4, Winter 2009
  • CHOICE, Vol. 46, No. 11, July 2009
  • Polish American Journal, March 9, 2009
  • Book News Inc.; Feb. 2009

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