With the Beatles, Paul McCartney used the electric bass not just to propel melody, but also to flesh it out. With the Rolling Stones, the bassist Bill Wyman and the drummer Charlie Watts brought a jazz-and-blues-inflected “in-the-pocket” approach to the rock ’n’ roll rhythm section. The 1950s hopped and bopped. Wyman and Watts grooved, perfectly framing the Stones’ other instruments, and of course the singer Mick Jagger.
“The Quiet One,” an engaging documentary on Wyman directed by Oliver Murray and derived from the voluminous archives that Wyman has been keeping for decades, mostly deals indirectly with Wyman’s signature achievement. (The bassist retired from the Stones in the early 1990s.) Its main thrust derives from the contradictions inherent in his life story: A mild-mannered fellow enters the music business just to play, winds up in a controversial and wildly successful rock group, and manages, for a long time, to sidestep most of this situation’s pitfalls by dint of his subdued personality and relatively sober lifestyle.
Many of the perks he did enjoy were not standard rock-star stuff. Living in the South of France, he found friendship with both James Baldwin and Marc Chagall, for instance.
Wyman narrates throughout, and his innate common sense can be persuasive, as when he argues that the Stones’ tax exile to France in the early 1970s was a necessity rather than an indulgence.
Eventually he does get around to doing something terribly ill-advised, and Very Stupid Rock Star. His 1989 marriage to the spectacularly age-inappropriate Mandy Smith — she was 18; he was 52 — blew up in mere months. Wyman doesn’t have much to say about the outrageous episode save that it was a mistake. His subsequent domestic life seems normal and possibly as exemplary as his musical one.
The Quiet One
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 49 minutes.