Haven’t we all been forced, at one time or another, to sit next to someone and listen as they go through stacks of old photo albums and boxes of memorabilia? That’s kind of what watching “The Quiet One” feels like, except that the someone in question is Bill Wyman, former bassist for the Rolling Stones. He has led an interesting life, to say the least.
That doesn’t mean that this documentary, which is substantially built around Wyman’s large archive of film footage, still photos, audio recordings, ephemera and other mementos related to the Stones — and which the 82-year-old Wyman opened up to researchers in 2014 — is particularly mesmerizing. As a piece of storytelling, it simply pages through Wyman’s life, more or less chronologically, hitting all the expected (if new to some) highs, lows and everything in between.
And so we glimpse, in passing: the musician’s childhood in war-torn South London during World War II; his troubled relationship with his bricklayer father; his name change (from Perks to Wyman); his first band, the Cliftons; his invention of a fretless bass; three marriages, including one, at 52, to an 18-year-old he began seeing when she was 13.
Most of the film deals, if only glancingly, with his time with the Stones, jumping from the death of the band’s original leader Brian Jones to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’s famous feuds, to his bandmates’ drug use, his own sex addiction, the demands of touring, fame and the controversial 1969 performance at the Altamont Speedway in California, during which an audience member was fatally stabbed.
It’s all very eventful, to be sure, but there is little insight offered up into any kind of larger meaning, whether psychological, musical or sociological.
Known as the quiet Stone, for his taciturn ways and avoidance of at least some of the excesses of the rock star life, Wyman more than lives up to the title of the film. Unfortunately, it might have made for a better movie if its subject had opened up something more than just his attic.
Unrated. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains some strong language and mature thematic material related to sex, drugs and rock and roll. 105 minutes.