Early in the filming of his documentary “The Quiet One,” Oliver Murray knew he had his emotional centerpiece after capturing his subject, the longtime Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, talking about an encounter with Ray Charles. It’s a simple and quiet moment in a film packed full of tales of pop-culture upheaval, one that touchingly displays the importance of elder musicians on this particular musician’s life.
Wyman is not a man to let his emotions run wild in talking about his childhood, the pluses and minuses of being the Stone least likely to be recognized, or even his enthusiasm for photography and filmmaking. He’s clearly the quiet one for a reason.
Murray, a music video director making his feature debut with “The Quite One,” neatly assembles a chronology of Wyman’s life heavy on still photographs and plenty of Super 8 footage that the musician took himself. Murray’s job was to curate the extensive Wyman collection and turn it into a story, and he does so without ever digging too deep into Wyman’s psyche.
We learn things that might be unknown to all but Stones diehards: He switched to bass from guitar in his first band after hearing Booker T. & the M.G.’s “Green Onions” and patterned his playing after the M.G.’s second bassist, Donald “Duck” Dunn. He didn’t care for drugs and was never a heavy drinker but he might have had a sex addiction (in his 1990 autobiography, “Stone Alone,” he boasts of bedding more than a thousand women). James Baldwin turned him into a Ray Charles fan when the band tax-exiled themselves to the south of France, where he became friends with Marc Chagall during the last eight years of the painter’s life.
Otherwise, the stories in “The Quiet One” are the oft-told Stones lore: the desire to be a blues band and not rock ‘n’ rollers, the drug busts, the exile to France over tax issues, and the stadium tours of the last four decades. Other than meeting heroes like Charles, Muddy Waters, and Howlin Wolf, nothing rattles the steady Wyman demeanor, even when he talks about the disturbing elements of his public and private life: a disapproving father, the disastrous 1969 Altamont concert, divorce.
He’s had three wives but the one most people want to hear about — Mandy Smith, whom he married when she was 18 and he was 52 — is dealt with quickly. “I was stupid to think it could work,” he says with nary a mention of their courtship beginning when she was a minor.
Murray’s endgame, it appears, is to depict Wyman as satisfied with his life away from the Rolling Stones, the tours and the occasional infighting. He has a family and an estate, his cameras, and his collections. But was he the calm in the Mick and Keith storm? Did he ever express an opinion about anything the Stones did? That remains a mystery.
Sundance Selects plans to release the film, which was pulled from the Sheffield Doc/Fest amid protests, in U.S. theaters on June 21.