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Fast-paced tech doc 'Silicon Cowboys' tracks '80s rise of Compaq Computers

Fast-paced tech doc 'Silicon Cowboys' tracks '80s rise of Compaq Computers
Compaq Computer co-founders Jim Harris, from left, Bill Murto and Rod Canion are shown with the first Compaq Portable computer from the documentary "Silicon Cowboys." (Houston Chronicle)

Who would have thought that a computer prototype sketched on the back of a Houston House of Pies place mat would prove to be a thorn in the side of IBM for the better part of the 1980s?

That's just one of the morsels served up in Jason Cohen's engaging "Silicon Cowboys," a zippy, compact history of the rise and rise of Compaq Computer Corp.

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Back in 1982, former Texas Instruments senior managers Rod Canion, Jim Harris and Bill Murto had a concept for building a better mousetrap that involved a portable "suitcase computer" capable of running the same software and peripherals as a Big Blue PC.

Technically speaking, the Compaq Portable, with a weight of 27 pounds, was considered less a portable than a "luggable," but it nevertheless possessed a certain coolness factor that caught fire, and not in a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 way.

In short order, company CEO Canion shed his old wire rims and Wal-Mart sports jackets for a sleeker corporate style, while signing John Cleese for a series of memorable commercials.

Director Cohen, whose "Facing Fear" was among the 2014 Oscar nominees for documentary short, lends this classic David versus Goliath story a playfully retro feel complete with old TV clips that look like they were recorded on VHS and a beep 'n' blip-heavy electronic score by Ian Hultquist that could have easily come from a vintage Nintendo game.

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'Silicon Cowboys'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 17 minutes

Playing: Laemmle's Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; Laemmle's Pasadena Playhouse; also on VOD

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