Ever since he was a lad, Bill Perks Jr. was a chronic collector. Photos, books, records, flotsam and jetsam from the bombed neighborhoods of Blitz-era Britain — the skinny kid had a knack for squirreling stuff away that had sentimental value to him. He also started keeping a journal at a young age and became a bit of a teen shutterbug. The urge to hold on to things and document his daily adventures stuck with Perks — who’d changed his name to Bill Wyman — as the R&B outfit he played bass in started to make a name for themselves, first in the clubs and then on the charts. By the time the then-56-year-old musician officially quit the Rolling Stones, he’d amassed several dozen shelves’ worth of memorabilia, photo albums, home movies, gig posters, live recordings, and other assorted prized possessions. “A capsule of my life,” Wyman called it. He kept his treasure trove private. Then, in 2014, he decided to let filmmaker Oliver Murray muck about in it.
It’s best to think of The Quiet One, the documentary that mines that personal material, as a first-person history lesson on the Stones from Marquee Club days to Steel Wheels, sprinkled with never-before-seen peeks at the band. The backstory: infamously stoic bassist joins the blues-purist outfit in ’62; exits stage left in ’92. In between: British Invasion, anti-Beatles branding, “Satisfaction,” screaming groupies, drug busts, deaths, Altamont, etc. But the chance to peruse rare pics of the scruffy lads throughout the ages, see obscure concert and interview snippets, and get occasional commentary from the source, however — that’s really what folks are here for. Growing up poor in postwar London, the stint in the army, the pre-Stones rock combos? Interesting. The post-Stones pick-up band, the autumn years, the I’m-happier-at-home-with-the-wife-and-kids platitudes? Tolerable. War stories about Hyde Park and playing with Howlin’ Wolf and backstage snapshots circa ’72? Invaluable.
So take that tour down memory lane and gape in awe at the shot of Baby Mick ‘n’ Keef bowling in America, and listen to Wyman talk about how tight he and Brian Jones were, and feel like you’re a fly on the wall while grainy Super 8 footage of the boys lounging on couches plays. The solo stuff gets lip service as well, notably his hit “Je Suis un Rock Star,” which is a strong contender for the greatest skinny-tie song of 1982. Occasionally, we’ll get a tidbit here or there (“once my grandmother died, being loved kind of vanished, really”), that resonates with a statement about taking full advantage of female attention later on (“I just wanted affection…and these girls were affectionate”). Wyman refers to sex as his addiction, the equivalent to his band mates’ dancing with Mr. D. But mostly, the man sticks to fairly stock reminiscences. The doc does a good job of winding its way through his archives. It conspicuously steers clear of going too deep into his skeleton-filled closets. Which brings us to one slightly ajar boneyard specifically.
This would be Wyman’s marriage to Mandy Smith in 1989, a controversial subject which The Quiet One handles in the following manner: The bassist went to an event where people were dancing. He noticed one woman in particular. They were introduced. “It was from the heart,” Wyman notes, “and it wasn’t from, like, lust.” A newspaper headline trumpets that the 52-year-old will marry his 18-year-old girlfriend. Smith notes that they wanted to get married when they met years ago, “but obviously, we couldn’t.” A second headline informs us that the union is no more. He chalks it up to a mistake. Now let’s move on, shall we?
What the film fails to mention, of course, is that Smith was 13 when they met; by her account, she was 14 when they first had sex. Tabloids had a field day. Smith’s sister considered having him prosecuted. These are facts. And you are welcome to chalk this up to the times — hey, man, it was the late ’80s! — or to rock stars being rock stars, or to Wyman being the most notorious serial womanizer in a band brimming with cocksmen, if the numbers are to be believed. You can point out that the bass line to “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” still slaps. It’s also probably ridiculous to think that a film devoted to its subject’s accomplishments in a gamechanging band is going to spend a lot of time on something he’d rather not dwell on. Or that he’d use the opportunity to reflect on certain aspects of this relationship decades after that fact. You can’t always get what you want.
But just because someone gets to select which parts of their legacy are enshrined, especially if they’re holding the keys to what looks like a literal vault, doesn’t mean chapters of their story are erased. They may be heavily curated and cleaned up and chock full of rarities, but not erased. A person may be done with the past, but as the saying goes, the past is not done with them. And to watch The Quiet One at this particular moment in time is to feel that not only is this a highly subjective take, but that you’re being a little jerked around here. Even the most diehard Stones fan is bound to leave feeling a little conflicted. It’s a doc that lives up to its name in all the wrong ways.