2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘The Quiet One’

May 2, 2019

by Carla Hay

Bill Wyman in "The Quiet One"
Bill Wyman in “The Quiet One” (Photo by Bent Rej)

“The Quiet One”

Directed by Oliver Murray

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on May 2, 2019.

Bill Wyman, who was the bass player for the Rolling Stones from 1962 until he quit the band in 1993, has been a Rolling Stones archivist for decades. He has shared his mementos and memories in various ways, including in his 1990 memoir “Stone Alone” and his 2001 photo book “Rolling With the Stones.” The documentary “The Quiet One” is essentially an updated, movie version of Wyman’s books—there’s plenty of great stuff pulled from the archives, but if you’re looking for a truly revealing tell-all, then you’ll have to look elsewhere.

The movie’s title comes from the image that Wyman had of being “the quiet one” in the band. During his time in the Rolling Stones, Wyman was also known for being the most aloof in the band, and he says he was the only member of the Rolling Stones who didn’t abuse drugs. That’s not news to die-hard Rolling Stones fans or anyone who’s read “Stone Alone,” but it might come as a surprise to those who know very little about Wyman. Sex is the only addiction that Wyman confesses that he had during his heyday with the Rolling Stones, but “The Quiet One” doesn’t have the braggadocio that Wyman had in “Stone Alone,” where he claimed that he bedded many more women on tour than all of his bandmates. Not surprisingly, Wyman’s 10-year marriage to first wife Diane ended in divorce in 1969.

Although “The Quiet One” barely mentions Wyman’s first marriage, the documentary offers a little more insight into how Wyman was as a divorced dad who had full custody of his son Stephen, who was born in 1962. Being a divorced father with full custody was rare in the 1970s, and being a rock star in that family situation was even more unusual. As he did in “Stone Alone,” Wyman hints that he got full custody because Stephen showed signs of neglect when the child had been living with Diane. Through home movies and photos, Stephen is seen as a constant companion to Wyman and his then-partner Astrid Lundstrom, who was in a relationship with Wyman from 1967 to 1983. Unfortunately, Stephen was not interviewed for this documentary. However, it’s clear that when the Rolling Stones temporarily moved to France in the early 1970s for tax reasons, the reason why Wyman said he hated it was because he was separated from Stephen, who lived with Wyman’s parents in England during this time.

Some of the movie’s content has been seen before in Wyman’s books and in Rolling Stones documentaries such as “Charlie Is My Darling,” “The Stones in the Park” and “Gimme Shelter.” Most of the material from Wyman’s archives are photos, audio recordings and brief snippets of home movies and off-stage band footage, such as the Stones frolicking at a hotel pool in the mid-1960s or flying on a private jet in the early 1970s. New interviews with fellow music stars Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Mary Wilson (formerly of the Supremes), Bob Geldof and Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts are not seen but are only heard in voiceovers. The other members of the Rolling Stones—lead singer Mick Jagger and guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood—did not give new interviews for this documentary. There are also many stylized closeups of someone pushing play or stop on an old audio cassette recorder, to add to the ambience of the retrospective footage.

During the first three-quarters of the movie, Wyman is shown mostly from behind, sitting in front of a computer in the Stones archive room of his home, with his voice heard in voiceovers. It isn’t until the last quarter of the movie that the present-day Wyman is fully shown on camera in new footage, whether it’s of him taking photos (one of his hobbies), puttering in his garden, or being interviewed with his third and current wife, Suzanne Acosta Wyman. (They’ve been married since 1992, and they have three daughters together.) The full reveal of Wyman in the latter part of the movie is a metaphor for how Wyman wasn’t able to fully open up until later in his life, when he was away from the Rolling Stones spotlight, and after he settled down with Acosta and started a new family with her. She’s the only romantic partner of Wyman’s who’s interviewed for this movie.

The best thing about “The Quiet One” is that it offers a thrilling journey through music history. Rolling Stones songs that are in the movie include “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Paint It Black,” “Street Fighting Man,” “Brown Sugar,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Miss You” and “Start Me Up.” There is also early footage of the Stones when they were primarily a blues covers band. Wyman’s solo career is briefly mentioned, as is his post-Stones work with the Rhythm Kings, a rotating group of musicians that play retro rock and blues. The documentary has a great selection of songs for its soundtrack, but the sound mixing is sometimes uneven. The movie also has some dramatic recreations with actors, as well as animated footage, which are production choices that sometimes annoy documentary purists.

“The Quiet One” offers a psychological explanation for Wyman’s ability to remain stoic in a mercurial, superstar band whose highs and lows have been well-documented. Wyman’s emotionally distant parents, especially his father, didn’t expect him to go beyond his financially disadvantaged working-class background. Wyman (who was born William Perks but changed his last name to Wyman after he decided to become a professional musician) says only his maternal grandmother had faith that he would become world-famous, and she was ridiculed in the family for believing in him. The combination of growing up poor and having most of his family members discouraging his dreams of being a musician led to Wyman often feeling emotionally “empty” and having lifelong insecurities over whether or not he deserved the success that came his way.

One of the most poignant moments in the movie is near the end when Wyman chokes up and tearfully remembers meeting his biggest musical hero, Ray Charles, who asked Wyman to play on his next album, but Wyman turned down the offer because he didn’t think we was “good enough” to work with Charles. Through the tears, you can feel how Wyman is reliving the experience and how he must have felt humbled, star-struck and inferior in the presence of his legendary idol. You can also sense that even though Wyman might have regretted turning down the offer, he probably would’ve had the same response if Charles were still alive and made the same offer today.

Authorized documentaries about celebrities have their pros and cons. The obvious advantage is the documentary will have exclusive access to interviews and other footage that an unauthorized documentary might be prevented from getting. The downside is that authorized documentaries often gloss over unflattering details.

The way “The Quiet One” describes Wyman’s ill-fated marriage to second wife Mandy Smith is one such example of how the documentary doesn’t adequately address the biggest controversy of Wyman’s life. Wyman says in “The Quiet One” that he fell in love with Smith at first sight, but she wasn’t old enough to date at the time. What he doesn’t mention in the documentary is that Smith was only 13 and he was almost 47 when they met. In past interviews, Smith admitted that she and Wyman secretly dated while she was underage, and they began having sex when she was 14. They got married in 1989, when Smith was 18, and they officially divorced in 1991. In the documentary, Wyman says of the marriage: “I was stupid to think it would actually work.”

Wyman’s pre-marital relationship with Smith was not only scandalous, it was also illegal for several years. In “The Quiet One” documentary, Wyman does not explain why he was sexually attracted to a barely pubescent girl, nor does director Oliver Murray acknowledge the disturbing and inappropriate aspects of that relationship, except for a brief flash of a newspaper article that mentions Wyman’s romantic interest in Smith began when she was 13. Even though Wyman appears to be an upstanding family man now, the way he pursued Smith when she was an underage child is the very definition of what a sexual predator does. Wyman’s excuse (which he’s given in his memoir “Stone Alone” and past interviews) was that Smith looked like an adult when she was 13.

Needless to say, Wyman and Smith’s illegal relationship would have absolutely had more serious consequences for him if it had been going on today. In this #MeToo era, society has been far less likely to overlook people’s misdeeds when it comes to the abuse of power and sex. Sheffield Doc/Fest in England dropped “The Quiet One” from its 2019 lineup, and canceled a post-screening Q&A with Wyman and Murray that would have taken place on June 7, after receiving numerous complaints that the movie irresponsibly covers up the serious issue of statutory rape. In its attempt to erase or minimize unsettling aspects of Wyman’s personal life, “The Quiet One” completely ignores another bizarre twist to Wyman’s relationship with Smith: In 1993, Wyman’s son Stephen got married to Mandy Smith’s mother, Patsy Smith, but the marriage ended two years later.

Wyman’s refusal to acknowledge the scandalous mess resulting from his relationship with Mandy Smith is not the only example of how Wyman may not be the most reliable narrator of his life story that he tells in this movie. The Rolling Stones famously headlined a free concert at London’s Hyde Park on July 5, 1969. The concert, which had an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 people in attendance, took place just two days after former Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones had died in a mysterious drowning, which happened one month after Jones had left the band. It was also the first concert that the Rolling Stones performed with guitarist Mick Taylor, who had replaced Jones.

Unfortunately, it’s widely considered one of the worst high-profile concerts that the Rolling Stones ever performed. The Stones were ragged and out-of-tune, the band’s tribute to Jones was awkward (white butterflies were carted in to be released on stage, but most of the butterflies died in the boxes), and the death of Jones brought an air of sadness to the event. The way that Wyman describes the concert is certainly questionable. He says that it was a “wonderful concert” that went so smoothly that “it was like a dream” and there were “no drugs”—but it’s a description which simply isn’t true when it’s been well-documented that Richards and several members of the band’s entourage were strung out on drugs at the time. Fortunately, there was no real violence at the Hyde Park concert.

The same can’t be said for the Altamont festival that was held in the San Francisco area on December 6, 1969, when four people died, including a man who was stabbed to death by Hell’s Angels gang members while the Rolling Stones were performing. So much has already been written, said, and revealed about the Altamont tragedy (including in the documentary “Gimme Shelter”), that “The Quiet One” offers no new insight. Wyman, who is more comfortable dealing with facts than emotions when discussing his life and the Rolling Stones, expresses the expected remorse over the concert, but he doesn’t talk about what it was really like to go through that trauma. As with many aspects of his life, Wyman will only admit that he pushed his feelings aside to get through the situation at hand.

And that’s probably why the documentary doesn’t mention two more recent things that are probably touchy subjects with Wyman: He’s been diagnosed with prostate cancer, which he announced in 2016. Wyman also reunited with the Rolling Stones as a guest performer for the band’s 50th anniversary concerts in London in 2012, but the reunion ended on a sour note when Wyman gave post-concert interviews complaining the experience was “disappointing” for him because the band didn’t give him enough time on stage. Wyman was subsequently not invited to be a guest performer on the Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary tour, but former Stones guitarist Taylor (who was also at the 2012 London shows) was included on the tour as a guest performer.

Wyman admitted in “Stone Alone,” as he does “The Quiet One,” that because he was so different from the other members of the Rolling Stones, he often distanced himself from their behind-the-scenes antics and drama. He was in the band, but he remained somewhat of an outsider within the group. His desire to have a more “normal” life was the main reason why he retired from the band, and it allowed him to lead a more content lifestyle with his current wife and family. “The Quiet One” shows that Wyman is indeed different from the rest of the Rolling Stones, who continue to tour the world for the millions in revenue and for the huge crowds. It’s the kind of money and adulation that Wyman says he doesn’t need to be happy, so he can live life and make music on his own terms.

IFC Films/Sundance Selects will release “The Quiet One” in select U.S. theaters on June 21, 2019.