Smash Palace is an obscure New Zealand drama by director Roger Donaldson, made after his debut feature Sleeping Dogs (which Arrow also released recently) became the first feature on 35mm ever shot in New Zealand. Now New Zealand is a common filming location, but back then it was unknown territory. Donaldson was in the vanguard of a burgeoning wave of Kiwi filmmakers in the early ’80s who mostly used genre conventions in some way in their films, such as Vincent Ward, Geoff Murphy and Peter Jackson.
Donaldson continued some of the themes of Sleeping Dogs here, specifically near the film’s climax. Bruno Lawrence of The Quiet Earth plays Al Shaw, a former race-car driver who after an injury is now working at his father’s wrecking yard. He met the French-born Jacqui (Anna Jemison) while he was a still a driver, and they moved to his native New Zealand. Their marriage seems OK at the start, but gradually the arguments are becoming more frequent and after a violent altercation, she leaves him and takes their daughter. However, he won’t let her take their kid without a fight.
Smash Palace is an interesting film with a powerhouse performance by Bruno Lawrence, who played everybody’s favourite cross-dressing scientist in The Quiet Earth. It’s up there with Cronenberg’s The Brood as one of the more extreme takes on the age-old separation movie, such as Kramer Vs. Kramer. He is an utter monster, but you also kind of feel for this guy, which makes him a more interesting character than he could be. It’s most certainly a film about a man’s masculinity in crisis, and how he lashes out to prove his masculinity—not unlike the later Kiwi film Once Were Warriors. It deserves its place in New Zealand cinema, although the film doesn’t completely work and there are long stretches where it can be quite dull. Nevertheless, Lawrence’s committed performance really carries the film.
The disc includes a commentary from Donaldson and the stunt driver Steve Millen, and there is a 51-minute long documentary on the film and, finally, the trailer. The booklet that is included in the first pressing includes an essay by Ian Barr, a review by Pauline Kael and the original press book.