The Quiet One
Documentary directed by Oliver Murray
Playing at IFC Center
If you know anything about Bill Wyman, bass player for The Rolling Stones, it’s that he dated a 13-year-old girl in the 1980s when he was 47. The pair married in 1989, when she was 18 and he 52, and then Wyman’s son from a previous marriage married his dad’s new bride’s mother. (Take a minute to re-read that sentence; it sounds nuts, but it’s accurate.)
“The Quiet One,” a new documentary about Bill Wyman barely touches any of this. The affair with decades-younger Mandy Smith, tabloid fodder on both sides of the Atlantic, is mentioned at the 68-minute mark of the 98-minute film. All you’ll hear was that “she was too young” and “it was from the heart, it wasn’t lust.”
I am not here to condemn Wyman, but if I’m going to watch a profile on him, I want it to be honest. After all, as he himself says, his entire musical aesthetic is to “stay out of the way,” to never take solos, to not call attention to himself. When Ray Charles, a hero, asks him to guest on a recording date, he demurs, knowing he isn’t good enough.
The Rolling Stones’ rhythm section was revolutionary, no doubt about it, but it was mainly because of Charlie Watts’ snap-roll drumming and the thick fuzz from how Wyman’s simple basslines were recorded. When Wyman left the group in 1989, few concertgoers issued complaints.
There are glimpses of young Mick Jagger strutting his stuff that hasn’t been seen before, but do we really live in a world desperate for more imagery of young Mick Jagger? Not to the point where we need a phony, glad-handing “oh, wasn’t he so brilliant” wet kiss of a documentary like this one. Nevertheless, Stones completists may get a kick out of this movie, as it offers a peek into the enormous archive of photographs and silent film reels Wyman collected over the years. (From a young age he was a bit of a hoarder.)
It seems as if every week we get another doc about someone who did something notable in the 20th century arts scene. Check out “Can’t Stand Losing You” about the Police guitarist Andy Summers, “Beware of Mr. Baker” about Cream drummer Ginger Baker or “I Called Him Morgan” about jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan for films that bring something unique to the table. There’s no point making much noise about “The Quiet One.”