Pratt offers a month of Oscar-worthy documentaries and shorts

It's the annual lament of Academy Award-watchers: Where can one see the winners of the Documentary and Short Subject Oscars? They're never at the local multiplex and aren't carried at Blockbuster.

This afternoon and on Saturdays throughout April, Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library will screen these hard-to-find films. "Oscar at Pratt" showcases 42 works -- mostly live-action and animated short subjects, but a few documentaries, too -- culled from the library's vast video holdings by Marc Sober, head of its Audio-Visual Department.


"These are the Academy Awards people never get to see," says Mr. Sober, adding the library's nearly 9,000 films -- some on videotape, others on 16-mm. -- include about 250 Oscar winners. "This may be the only place they can get to see some of them."

Today's program starts off at the summit, with six of the most enjoy able and rewarding minutes any film-goer could spend. Director Chuck Workman's "Precious Images," commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Director's Guild of America, is a seamless compilation of nearly 500 film images -- everything from the pistol shoot that closed "The Great Train Robbery" to King Kong dropping a biplane from atop the Empire State Building and Peter Finch in "Network" yelling that he's "mad as hell."


Trying to identify each film is guaranteed to give viewers a headache, so don't bother. The only problem with "Precious Images" is that it gives the impression all film reaches the level of great art. But what a delicious lie.

None of the program's remaining nine shorts are as easy on the eye, but they're all fascinating examples of the filmmaker's art. .. Among them, "Time Piece," nominated for an Oscar in 1965, is a live-action short featuring a young Jim Henson enduring -- barely -- the rat race surrounding him (you'll recognize the voice of Kermit the Frog as Mr. Henson utters the film's only word).

And "The Dove," a live-action short nominated in 1968, is a howl -- an Ingmar Bergman parody, where everyone speaks in pigeon-Swedish and Death loses a game of badminton.

Included in today's program: "A Shocking Accident," winner of a live-action short subject Oscar in 1968, is based on a Graham Greene novel and tells of a lad whose father is killed by a plummeting pig; "The Critic," a 1962 animation Oscar winner, has Mel Brooks' voice offering commentary on a series of disjointed images; "A Chairy Tale," a 1957 Oscar nominee in which Norman McLaren, an animator for the National Film Board of Canada, makes a temperamental chair cry.

"That's Me," nominated in 1963, features Alan Arkin as a young, guitar-playing Puerto Rican immigrant who runs rings around the social worker trying to help him find a job; "Special Delivery," an Oscar-winning National Film Board of Canada cartoon from 1968, about the perils of not shoveling your sidewalk in winter; "Frank Film," winner of the 1973 Animated Oscar, is an autobiographical work by Frank Morris with a dual soundtrack that may drive you nuts; and "The Great Cognito," nominated in 1978, is from director Will Vinton, the man responsible for the California Raisins.

Also in store during "Oscar at Pratt:"

* April 16, Music and Dance: Three films, featuring legendary performances by Arturo Toscanini, Jacques d'Amboise and Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The films are "Hymn of the Nations" (1944 nominee for Documentary short), "He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin' (1983 winner for Feature-length Documentary) and "The Bolero" (1973 winner for Live Action Short).

* April 23, Animation: 11 animated classics, including "The Tell-Tale Heart" (1953 nominee), "Moonbird" (1959 winner), "Munro" (1960 winner), "Ersatz" (1961 winner), "The Dot and the Line" (1965 winner), "Pulcinella" (1973 nominee), "The Creation" (1981 nominee), "Anna and Bella" (1985 winner), "The Man Who Planted Trees" (1987 winner), "Your Face" (1987 nominee) and "Tin Toy" (1988 winner).


* April 30, National Film Board of Canada: 11 examples of film from the innovative NFBC, including "Romance of Transportation Canada" (1952 animation nominee), "Neighbours" (1952 documentary short winner), "The Drag" (1966 animation nominee), "Walking" (1969 animation nominee), "Evolution" (1971 animation nominee), "The Family That Dwelt Apart" (1974 animation nominee), "Hunger" (1974 animation nominee), "The Bead Game" (1977 animation nominee), "Sand Castle" (1977 animation winner), "Every Child" (1979 animation nominee) and "Paradise" (1984 animation nominee).

All showings are free and begin at 2 p.m. in the Pratt's Wheeler Auditorium. Call 396-4616.