One of the joys of watching a well-made biographical documentary is getting intimate with figures you feel you should have already known all about. Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back dexterously balances cataloging the illustrious career and public persona of its subject, along with his personal life. Clearly a deeply private man, Maurice has kept the source of a decade long rift with his brother, fellow performer Gregory Hines, secret even from other family members. We see him guarded at times, calling cut as he begins to get emotional in one scene, but filmmaker John Carluccio perseveres and offers us numerous times throughout the film where Maurice does become more vulnerable, and the showbiz mask drops.
There’s a lot to admire about Maurice Hines and his long, continuing career in show business, but this isn’t a hagiography and he’s described as a “diva” at times and often being challenging to work with. Hines started tap dancing at five years old, enjoyed huge success as part of a double act with his brother, then later as a trio with their father, known as Hines, Hines and Dad. Maurice made his Broadway debut in 1954 and was still performing this summer in New York at the age of 75.
A genuine trailblazer, Hines has been open about his sexuality as a gay man for his entire career as a dancer, singer, actor, director and choreographer, and says that his parents were accepting of the news when he came out to them as a young man. Apart from him talking about having to overcome the professional challenges of being a gay black man throughout his career, his sexuality is treated as matter-of-factly in the film, as it is by Maurice himself. Among the family members we meet in the film are the daughter he adopted and is proud to have raised Cheryl Davis and his nephew Zachary Hines. We also hear from some of his Broadway legend friends like Chita Rivera, Mercedes Ellington and Debbie Allen.
Not only does Maurice have remarkable skill and panache as a dancer, actor and singer, but he has forged and sustained a seven decade career for himself as one of the few people of colour at the highest level on Broadway. He’s also created opportunities for his fellow performers along the way, with the likes of 1986’s Uptown… It’s Hot! It was a show he created, directed, choreographed and starred in, along with Hot Feet staged in 2006, which Hines conceived, choreographed and directed, both productions featured largely African American casts.
Maurice appeared on film opposite his brother Gregory in the Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominated The Cotton Club, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. A newly cut, restored version of the film, The Cotton Club Encore, had its world premiere at the New York Film Festival last month, with Hines and Coppola in attendance. In Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back , we see an emotional Hines at taking his seat at the event and at the post-screening Q&A. The movie’s plot mirrored Hines’ real life relationship with his brother and a scene shot for the film was the last time that the pair ever danced together. It’s sensitively handled, poignant moment in the documentary.
Hines is open about being depressed and having lost his lust for life, which makes the the wonderful scene towards the film where Maurice receives a surprise belated 75th birthday party, surrounded by friends, clearly full of love for him, all the more delightful. It’s a touching testament to a life well lived on and off the stage and the film serves as a fitting tribute to this pioneering Broadway legend.
Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back will had its world premiere at DOC NYC on Sunday November 10th at the SVA Theatre in New Yorks as part of DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary film festival which continues until November 15th. For more details and the full festival lineup head to the official DOC NYC website here. https://www.docnyc.net/