One of my favorite 100+ films is Melies’ **The Four Troublesome Heads**–absolutely hilarious. Naturally, I’ve seen dozens of his films, but Alice Guy & Ferdinand Zecca were also doing wonderful trick films at the time (Zecca’s riotous The Wonderful Chicken being just one, though sadly it’s one of many not listed on the IMDB).
I’ve also been in the unique position of seeing prints of a few 100+ year-old films struck from the original nitrate negatives, and the resolution, contrasts, and depths of field are truly miraculous. If only all films that age were in the position to look that good.
As for sound films, The Jazz Singer is credited as the first feature with synchronized dialogue (although the synchronization was part of a separate unit). All previous commercial synchronization efforts were in shorter forms (one- or two-reelers) and were not widely distributed, largely because the technology was still spotty at best and mass reproduction was not commercially viable. Before TJS, talking pictures were seen as gimmicks or novelties, while the Warner Bros. film represented a quantum shift in the industry. It should be noted that a year before TJS, Warners released Don Juan, which had a synchronized music track that was the first of its kind (meaning mass-distributed) as well.
Here’s a helpful timeline.
Actually, if I’m not mistaken, this only had synchronized sound effects but no “talking”–given the technology at the time, I seriously doubt Ms. Bernhardt’s french accent would’ve been intelligible.