Contrary to popular belief, Charles Bukowski thought that Mickey Rourke's performance was 'mis-done' to begin with, but grew to like his depiction of Chinaski as the production continued. Verified in the booklet accompanying 'The Charles Bukowski Tapes' on DVD.
The apartment building where Wanda's apartment was located was an actual building where Charles Bukowski and his lover Jane Baker Cooley, the real-life counterparts to Henry and Wanda, had lived. No one knew this until Bukowski, who was watching the filming, remembered.
When they were filming the bar scene where Chinaski meets Wanda, as Mickey Rourke passed along the bar past Charles Bukowski, who was making a cameo appearance, the Buk spat the beer in his mouth right into the beer bottle in his hand, something that he had never done before and felt couldn't be done but once in a lifetime. Barbet Schroeder was unimpressed and used an alternate take of the shot.
The names of the night clubs, cocktail bars, and drinking establishments seen in the film, particularly seen in montages that bookend the picture, were Firefly, Boulevard Inn, Ski Room, Catelina Cocktails, The Elbow Inn, The Golden Horn, Craby Joe's, Smog Cutter, Frady Hank, The Sunset, Silver Platter, Side Show, Snug Harbor, The Hollyway Cocktails, and Oasis (aka Club Oasis).
Charles Bukowski wanted Sean Penn to star as protagonist Henry Chinaski, but Penn insisted that Dennis Hopper direct the film. Later, Hopper directed Penn in Colors (1988) without Hopper acting in it; then Penn would around three years later direct Hopper in The Indian Runner (1991) which Penn doesn't act in. Bukowski had written the Barfly (1987) screenplay for Barbet Schroeder, who had filmed him for French TV years before, and would not surrender it to Hopper, whom he despised as a gold-chain wearing Hollywood phony. Bukowski and Penn became friends for the rest of his life.
One of the exterior scenes in Barfly shows Mickey Rourke coming out of an old hotel. This hotel was actually The Royal Palms (on Westlake Ave.) which had been a swank men's club in the 30's. By 1986 it was being used to house a residential alcohol treatment program. In one scene, the camera follows the characters down the sidewalk and past a 'wino' drinking from a bottle in a paper bag. That 'drunk' was actually recruited for the movie from the residents at the Royal Palms.
The first Kino Flo unit was created in 1987, during the filming of Barfly (1987). Director of photography Robby Müller was filming in a cramped interior, and couldn't fit traditional lights into the location. In order to work around the problem, the film's gaffer Frieder Hocheim and best boy Gary H. Swink designed a high-output fluorescent light that had a remote ballast, allowing the lamp unit to become small and lightweight enough to be taped to the wall. Hochheim and Swink subsequently created a company, Kino Flo Incorporated, to manufacture and market their innovation to the film industry. The new lights were quickly embraced by cinematographers, and now are considered a staple of a standard motion picture lighting package.
This film was almost never made because the financially-strapped Cannon Group / Golan-Globus Productions were on the verge of bankruptcy at the time (and went out of business a little more than a year later). Producer Fred Fuchs brought his friend and producing partner Francis Ford Coppola's into the project and got the film made.
The Cannon Group company allegedly had restrictive bank covenants which limited the number of films it could make during periods of financial distress, which it was experiencing at the time. Because of expensive forward commitments to other stars on other films, Cannon decided to exclude Barfly (1987) from its production slate, because Cannon would have otherwise been forced to abandon another film in its place which had substantially greater monetary penalties to its star for non-production. The film was ultimately produced because Barbet Schroeder allegedly appeared at the Cannon offices one day with a battery powered portable saw and threatened to cut off his finger unless Cannon reconsidered its decision and agreed to make the film, stating that he (Schroeder) was represented by the law firm of Black and Decker and would be forced cut off his finger to allegedly show to the world that Cannon was cutting off a piece of him by abandoning the film. Cannon (to its credit) allegedly decided that violating its banking covenants was the lesser evil compared to denying birth to what was ultimately to prove be a classic and important artistic work. Fred Roos and Francis Ford Coppola from Zoetrope Studios were certainly important components in ultimately shaping the business plan going forward, but the decision was irrevocably made and committed to the day that Schroeder allegedly showed up in the offices with both a portable battery powered saw and the will and determination to use it exactly as he said he would if the decision to abort the film was not rescinded that morning. This true story was later fictionalized and retold in Charles Bukowski's novel "Hollywood" (1989).
There is no original score for this film. The film's soundtrack was mostly based on original source music specially selected by Associate Producer and Music Supervisor Jack Baran, with the exception of a few classical pieces selected by actor Mickey Rourke.
The picture is a semi-autobiography of poet, writer and author Charles Bukowski with star Mickey Rourke portraying the movie's central character of Henry Chinaski who is Bukowksi's alter-ego in the film and both of whom's last names rhyme.