Jokes is an unfinished three-part film written by Harmony Korine. The three chapters - Easter, Herpes and Slippers - were to be each directed by different directors. The film began production in 2000, with Gus Van Sant filming Easter, the first part of the film, in Paducah, Kentucky. The other parts of Jokes never entered production, due in part to the collapse of Independent Pictures, the production company behind the film.
Easter, the story of a man who believes himself to be gay after watching a gay pornographic film with his wife, premiered as a work in progress at the 57th Venice Film Festival (August 30 - September 9, 2000). The Director of Photography for the film was Anthony Dod Mantle, who shot on beta digital. William Eggleston was also involved in the production, taking still photographs. The running time of the version that screened at the Venice Film Festival was 33 minutes.
Speaking about the film in Autumn 2006 issue of BUTT, Van Sant said:
...the combination of Harmony and I – we don’t really jibe as collaborators, even though you’d think we might. Somehow his aesthetic – it might have gotten away from me. It may have had to do with the casting. It’s an odd mix, Harmony and I.Bruce LaBruce visited the set of Easter in 2000, writing an account of the production for an issue of Index from 2000. This can be read here.
Other people mentioned as possible directors for the remaining parts of the Jokes included Chloë Sevigny, Claire Denis, Werner Herzog, Chris Cunningham and Korine himself. In the September - October 2000 issue of Res Cunningham alluded to this, saying:
Harmony Korine is the closest I've gotten to collaborating with someone. He's actually living across the road from me at the moment. I love Harmony. I love his films as well. He's someone who is interested in creating his own stuff. And he is also the complete opposite of me in that he relishes the culture. He soaks up loads of film and literature. In fact, one of the reasons I started watching old films is because he'd tell me about stuff he thought I'd like.The screenplays for the first two parts of Jokes - Easter and Herpes - were included in Harmony Korine - Collected Screenplays, released by Faber & Faber Ltd in the UK on April 8, 2002. The third part, Slippers, was not included as it was never written.
Harmony Korine, in an interview with Tod Lippy conducted via email in 2000, wrote the following piece, which was later used at the introduction to the Jokes section of Harmony Korine - Collected Screenplays.
Jokes is a film that I wrote about two years ago. I have always been a fan of vaudeville, and I have for a long time had the desire to direct and revive the classic blackface minstrels of yesteryear, in particular those early Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor classics that helped inspire me to become the person I am today. In fact, my two life-long dream projects are both epic in scope: the first is to star as a tap-dancing minstrel in a film called 'The Grace of Blackface.' The other film would be a historical period drama, tracing in great detail the histoy of molestation in the Boy Scouts. I would go decade by decade, showcasing the most infamous Boy Scout molesters of the day. I would focus particularly on the evolution of the scout-master molester: how with each passing era his methods and sophistication would increase accordingly, in essence becoming more and more uniformly perverse, reflecting the times and attitudes of the day, ending with the common flat-out paedophilic mantra that is the Boy Scouts of America. In fact I have already been working on a script that combines both themes, a period minstrel drama about the history of Boy Scout molesting. But Jokes is a separate undertaking. Written in conjunction with the former, it is a movie in three parts. Each chapter, so to speak, is based on a Milton Berle joke, usually a one-liner in the vein of Henny Youngman. Basically, I picked three separate jokes and embellished each one in order to stretch it out into a simple narrative of sorts. At the time, I was watching all the Alan Clarke films I could see, and I was very much excited by his technique: his use of long, flowing steadicam, no-frills organic film-making. So I was inspired to approach each joke/chapter in a similar way, a return to a place I had never before felt any interest. The idea of three different directors, including myself, came later, after the script was written. My main interest for making it an omnibus film was so that if the movie turned out terrible, I would only have to share a third of the negative critical brunt. Claire Denis is not going to direct the last instalment, although I admire her extremely. Logistically it could not happen in time. The third director will not be revealed until the film's completion.