3 out of 4 stars
There’s a song on the Who’s 1982 album “Face Dances” entitled “The Quiet One,” written and sung by John Entwistle. Autobiographical in nature, it was Entwistle’s reply to years of being pegged as “quiet” when in fact he thought “everyone else is too loud.”
Like Entwistle, Bill Wyman was the bassist in a famous English band who stood to the side practically motionless with other members who were far flashier. And he seems content with the same unspectacular defining label.
Unlike far too many aging rock stars (most notably the rest of the Rolling Stones, who are all in their 70s), Wyman recognized the medium is best executed by people not old enough to have an AARP membership. So he quit the band in 1993 at the relatively young age of 57. He had no professional or personal gripes with the rest of the group; he’d just had enough of the road and not enough of life.
Much like the title character himself, director Oliver Murray’s debut effort is workmanlike, without frills or much in the way of scandal. The one time Wyman got close to acting like a rock star was in 1989 when he married 18-year-old Mandy Smith, who he had been “seeing” since she was, ahem, 14. Murray misses a big “a-ha” moment by not mentioning that shortly thereafter, Wyman’s son Stephen married Mandy’s mother Patsy. At one point, Wyman’s son was also his stepfather-in-law and his mother-in-law was also his daughter-in-law. This was as close as Wyman ever got to scandal.
Unfortunately for some, the lack of multiple juicy kerfuffles in a movie about a guy who was a member of the bad boy Rolling Stones for more than a quarter of century is not a great selling point. But for those unimpressed or easily bored with just tabloid filler and are just students and fans of rock ’n’ roll, it’s a major plus.
Opening with and revisited throughout is a mid-distance interior shot of Wyman seated in front of a computer, his face never seen and his back to the camera with a long white mane hanging just over his collar. Surrounding him in the foreground are rows and rows of shelves housing films, photos, posters, pins, assorted knick-knacks and enough memorabilia to fetch close to eight figures from Stones collectors the world over.
In a manner not dissimilar to that of Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos, Wyman was his own band’s biggest fan and preeminent archivist.
What makes “The Quiet One” essential viewing for not only Stones junkies but classic rock followers as a whole is the sheer volume of bird’s-eye-view home movies and still photos taken by Wyman during the band’s arguable creative peak between 1967 and 1974. Although the quality is often iffy, images and reels from his perspective are pure gold.
Want to see the crowd at Altamont or Hyde Park for the first concert after the death of Brian Jones? Check. Or perhaps peek behind the scenes of the making of “Exile on Main Street?” Yep. At one point, someone asks Keith Richards what happened at a certain point in the band’s career and he responds with “I don’t know, you better ask Bill Wyman.” There are other discoveries and surprises strewn throughout, some that will be firsts to even the most dedicated of Stones fans.
The most impressive thing about Wyman, apart from walking away from the “Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band” in the world, was how he was able to recognize — at just the right time — that rock had become mostly a business where rebels were no longer valued and corporate sponsorships were required. He married a third time, became a father again, stayed married, played in clubs with low-visibility R&B and blues bands, continued to explore his photography hobby and now does what everyone in the world wishes they could do but can’t or don’t have the time for — whatever the hell pleases him.
It would appear sometimes you can get exactly what you want.