A few decades back, Baltimore had a number of art cinemas that handled the small, frequently foreign film, movies that could never be considered truly commercial. The Seven East, Five West, North Avenue Cinema and Charles served that kind of fare. Later, the Westview and York Ridge Cinemas would present an occasional art bill, but today, it is the Charles that stands alone as a repertory house showing mostly new films that might never make it to this area otherwise.
Some particularly interesting titles are included on the coming Charles schedule, movies such as ''Impromptu,'' ''Object of beauty,'' ''Mister Johnson,'' ''Poison,'' ''The Field'' and ''Superstar.''
''Impromptu'' will run May 16 through May 29. Judy Davis, Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters are in the cast. James Lapine directed. This is Lapine's first film as a director. He worked with Stephen Sondheim on both ''Sunday in the park With George'' and ''Into the Woods.'' He wrote and directed both shows.
''Impromptu'' presents Davis as George Sand, the woman who dressed like a man and fraternized with people like Chopin, Lizst and Eugene Delacroix. The last time Sand's story was done was in 1945, when Cornel Wilde was Chopin and Merle Oberon was Sand in ''A Song to Remember.''
Also on the schedule:
''The Object of Beauty'': A romp of manners that brings the Hollywood comedies of the '30s to mind. John Malkovich and Andie MacDowell are the lovers who live off others, or try to, in London. The film will play the Charles May 30 to June 5.
''Mister Johnson'': Bruce Beresford (''Driving Miss Daisy'') directed this one in which an Englishman, living in Nigeria in the '20s, becomes an embezzler to maintain his lifestyle. June 6 to 12.
''Poison'': This one has become the center of a small controversy because of its explicit sex footage. Directed by Todd Haynes, the film is three stories in one, and all are said to have been inspired by the writings of Jean Genet. June 13 to 23.
''Iron and Silk'': Mark Saltzman is the star, playing himself in a film based on his experiences in China where, for four years, he taught English to older Chinese students as part of a Yale exchange program. June 20 to 23.
''The Field'': Richard Harris won an Academy Award nomination for best actor of the year for his portrayal of an aging Irishman who wants to own the plot of land he has been working. The woman who owns it doesn't want to see him have it, and there is an American who is also interested in acquiring the land.
Jim Sheridan, who directed ''My Left Foot,'' is the director, and the cast includes John Hurt, Brenda Fricker -- who won the Academy Award for best supporting actress for her portrayal of the mother in ''My Left Foot'' -- and Tom Berenger, who plays the American. June 24 and 25.
''Superstar'': A documentary on the life of Andy Warhol, the artist who did curious things with pictures of Marilyn Monroe and soup cans and during the '60s, produced a number of films that were characteristic of that era. People like Dennis Hopper, Viva, Liza Minnelli, Ultra Violet, Shelley Winters and Grace Jones are part of the footage. ''Superstar'' will be shown June 27 to 29 along with ''The Doors,'' the Oliver Stone film on the short and tragic life of rock star Jim Morrison.
Also on the Charles schedule is a double bill that should interest those who wanted to see these films but never got around to them. Both ''Hamlet'' and ''Henry V'' will be shown on Sunday, June 30. Mel Gibson stars in the first, which was directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Kenneth Branagh both directed and starred in "Henry V."
The Charles, of course, also plays the pop films, those movies that have done reasonably well in other theaters. Both ''Reversal of Fortune'' and ''Awakenings'' will be shown there May 14 and 15. Jeremy Irons won the best actor award for his portrayal of Claus von Bulow in the first. Von Bulow is the man who was charged with trying to murder his wealthy wife. She is played by Glenn Close.
And if you missed ''Misery'' and want to know what it was that won Kathy Bates the Academy Award for best actress of the year, the film will be shown at the Charles July 7 and 8 along with ''Silence of the Lambs,'' which is still available at other theaters.