Sound Unseen Review: Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back

An intimate and emotional dance with the tap great

When I got my first and only pair of tap shoes as a kid, I walked up and down the hardwood floors of my parents’ house as often as I could just to listen to the sound they made. Inevitably, my mother would make me stop out of fear I’d ruin the floors.

I only made it through one season of tap classes, but I’d wear those shoes whenever I could, until I outgrew them. I loved the sound of their tap.

Twenty years have passed since my singular pair of tap shoes, and somehow I’d forgotten just how pleasing, how addictive the sound of tap can be. Fortunately, it all came back this Saturday evening at the Sound Unseen Festival’s screening of Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back.

John Carluccio’s poignant documentary tells the story of artist Maurice Hines. “You’ve got people in those feet,” Broadway legend Chita Rivera tells Hines early in the film. She’s not wrong. The film wastes no opportunity showcasing Hines’ masterful dance performances, weaving together flashbacks of Broadway shows, appearances on talk shows, or contemporary dance classes led by Hines. It is thrilling to watch.

Hines’ career began alongside his (arguably more famous) younger brother Gregory Hines. The film charts their rise from childhood stars, acclaimed for their skillful tap performances, who transformed into singers, touring with their father as the act Hines, Hines, and Dad.

As the two grew older, their careers diverged. Maurice found success on Broadway with shows like Eubie! and Uptown… It’s Hot! Meanwhile, while Greg continued to perform on stage, he also moved into film and T.V., achieving national stardom in the 1980s and 90s. One of the brothers’ last performances together was in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1984 The Cotton Club, in which Maurice and Gregory play a 30s era tap dancing duo inspired by real-life tap performers the Nicholas Brothers.

As their careers moved apart, tension between the two brothers grew. Their strain ultimately turned into a 10-year separation, which to this day, Maurice refuses to talk about. Ultimately, the brothers reconciled and remained close up until the time of Gregory’s death from liver cancer in 2003. “I’m going to miss us getting old together,” Maurice recalls his brother telling him in the final year of his life.

For as mesmerizing and high energy as the film is, there’s an underlying gentleness to it too. This in part is due to the remarkable intimacy established by the director - no small feat when your subject is a professional performer. Carluccio took his time with Hines, shooting the film over three years. The ensuing rapport let him capture sweet, of-the-cusp reflections from Hines. “I’m just thinking,” Hines says at one point while brushing his hair, “my whole life has been in dressing rooms.”

Yet that gentleness also comes from the film's subject. Some of the most touching scenes in the film are of Maurice with his family and friends. He loves them plainly and openly, and it is moving to see the preciousness and power of these deep, decades long attachments. For as complicated as his career may have been, as impatient or lonely as he may feel at times, he is unencumbered in his love for the people in his life, and while he is grateful for all his career has given him, dance finishes second.

Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back
Sound Unseen Film + Music Festival, Nov. 11-15.

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