There were several films I felt were integral to my education in cinematic history. The progression of films we viewed was not apparent at first; but, as I look back, I see that it was necessary to begin with The Birth of a Nation, directed by D.W. Griffith, and then progress to Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles.
The film The Birth of a Nation combined so many different elements of information. First, I believe the historical context of the film was interesting to watch. According to A History of Narrative Film by David A. Cook, The Birth of a Nation was first made available to the public on March 3rd 1915. It's like taking a time machine back to 1915 and looking at what they saw around them. Whether or not this film is accurate, the reasons and motives that went into to producing it was real; and, more than that, they were real for 1915.
It would be like a film maker now producing a film about the Korean War. People are still familiar with the issues of the Korean War and what the consequences were. In 1915 people were still familiar with the issues of the Civil War and the consequences. Movies are beginning to chronicle or history. Not only in years to come will they be a chronicle of facts for wars and other political events but they will show human emotion about the subject. We will be able to look back and see what the fashions were and what the manner of speaking was. The Birth of a Nation was honestly the first movie that ever made me feel so strongly about this subject. Actually, it was the first movie ever to make me realize how valuable ever movie is to society.
Citizen Kane is another example of this. Citizen Kane shows a newspaperman's demise and bitter resentment to the world out of his emotional lack of love from others and his attitudes towards wealth. A hundred years from now students may look back at Citizen Kane to understand a portion of the newspaper industry before it all switched over to the Internet. Or they may use Kane as an example in psychology class of what can happen to someone who uses money to gain love.
The progression from The Birth of a Nation to Citizen Kane is indeed a most important one in the history of the cinema.