Not Rated – Documentary
77 Minutes
Released September 16

Now playing at Laemmle’s Santa Monica Film Center

Silicon Cowboys is a sophisticated documentary directed by Jason Cohen, his second full-length documentary. From the beginning of the film there is a sense that the filmmakers are personally invested in the story. The director draws on his own sensory memories of the time period to create a colorful background for his true story of the evolution of what was at the time a cutting edge form of technical production.

Silicon Cowboys follows the emergence of the personal computing industry in the 1980’s. The film details the account of an unlikely group of friends in Houston who decided to quit their jobs at Texas Instruments (TI used to manufacture calculators that were small enough to carry in your briefcase – wow!). The friends had decided they wanted to open their own business. They met at a local Mexican restaurant and one night over margaritas and enchiladas, and mulled over the possibilities. It was suggested that they open a Mexican restaurant. Then one of them borrowed a pen from a waitperson and drew an idea on his placemat – a “luggable” personal computer that you could take home or on a trip, to continue to work away from your office. Decision made.

The strategy was that they would tear apart an IBM PC. IBM dominated the computer manufacturing business at the time. They would use the “puzzle pieces” that they removed from that PC to build their “portable” and they would endow it with the capacity to run any software that an IBM computer could run. They were so successful in their goal that even IBM was unable to build a portable that ran its own software as well.

This film is beautifully shot by Svetlana Cvetko and edited by Jake Pushinsky, using current interviews and vintage newscasts, headlines, news articles, and commercials. The story flows. Re-enactments look like newsreels because they are so smoothly edited in. Composer Ian Hultquist has put together a sound track that emotionally fleshes out the background of the 1980’s. The fashions of the period and its historical and artistic environment come to life.

This story is similar to the Steve Jobs films of last year in many ways. The innovative vision of the founders allowed them to keep their business model in a state of flux in response to changes in the tech industry and to the galaxy of new products being introduced into the computing business. They had a legion of competitors. However, their company, called Compaq, had a hook and that hook was “LUGGABLE”.

The period covered by this film is really the “Wild West” of high tech industry history. This story takes place the days before there were high tech angels and venture capitalists…the days when you had to actually go to the bank to get a loan to start a computer company!

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com. For previously published reviews see https://kwboole.wordpress.com/