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Did Douglas Sirk know that his movies were “Sirkian”? Absolutely, although his definition of that term would have differed from the one offered by the critics and scholars who discovered his work only after his 1959 retirement. The German-born director made glossy melodramas that offered submerged critiques of American society, but with an empathy for his characters that some of his devotees overlook. Sirk made more than 30 features in the United States, 24 of them in the ’50s, but is remembered mostly for the hyperstylized “women’s pictures” that subsequently inspired Fassbinder, Almodóvar, and Haynes. Thus this retrospective can condense “Douglas Sirk in the 1950s” to just six films, including his racially charged swan song, Imitation of Life (pictured; at 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 14, and 8:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 15). The series opens with The Tarnished Angels (at 4:50 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6, and 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9), derived from Faulkner’s Pylon, which adds airplanes to the director’s customary study of deception and self-delusion. The film features regular star Rock Hudson but is less typically “Sirkian” than Magnificent Obsession (at 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7, and 8:35 p.m. Monday, Aug. 8), in which Rock abandons the playboy life in hopes of redemption, or Written on the Wind (at 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, and 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 16), in which he’s a decent working man pursued by the women of a rich Texas oil clan. The series opens Saturday, Aug. 6, and runs through Tuesday, Aug. 23 (see Showtimes for a full schedule), at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $8.50. (301) 495-6700. (Mark Jenkins)