‘Silicon Cowboys’ Reveals the Mad Story Behind Compaq Computers


To all the people upset by a lack of headphone jacks in their phones today, a debate over attaching a handle on a computer carry case will seem quaint, and possibly hilarious. That’s OK; director Jason Cohen (the Oscar-nominated short Facing Fear) wants his documentary history of Compaq computers to be fun — and indeed, compared to the overly earnest clips of Halt and Catch Fire inserted for contrast, the real slow-talking Texans in the tale are a hoot.

In the style of a VH1 Behind the Music episode, here Compaq’s quest to be number one on the computer charts follows a familiar arc: A regular bunch of guys gets together, they do what they love, one has a great idea, they rocket up the charts…but will personal problems behind the scenes derail everything? Well, we mostly know how it ended, and the movie admits it up front: Where we used to say “IBM compatible,” we now just say “PC,” because IBM was knocked out of the PC business by these fellas.

But the joy here is in the telling, and these former–Texas Instruments–employees-made-good are a likable bunch, especially in their particularly Texan way of recalling every major milestone in terms of what they were eating or drinking at the time (beer, pie, and bloody marys are more relevant than you’d have guessed).

Best of all, though, are all the vintage ads and TV spots. IBM’s idea of hip was a Charlie Chaplin impersonator, and Compaq countered with John Cleese, realizing nerds would appreciate him the most.

Silicon Cowboys

Directed by Jason Cohen


Available on demand

Opens September 16, Village East Cinema