Noah & Federer ride the GPX!

Noah & Federer ride the GPX!

On the heels of the launch of the Goldenpass Express (GPX) late last year came the revelation that Roger Federer had been lined up for a publicity stint on behalf of the Montreux Oberland Bernois (MOB). Previously Federer had done other Swiss tourist publicity films including rail based ones and one (which was a spoof of sorts) with Anne Hathaway, thus he was a good choice for a Goldenpass Express video! No wonder the Montreux Oberland Bernois wanted him – especially after Shania Twain gave her name to one of the GoldenPass Express trains. Comedian Trevor Noah was partnered with Federer for the film – and that was because both had parentage of Swiss and South African heritage. Thus with the two men as the film’s main stars, the scene was set for a GoldenPass trip with a comedy flavour!

For those not in the know, the GPX is the Montreux Oberland Bernois’ answer to providing a through train between Montreux and Interlaken on two different rail systems – the MOB’s metre gauge network and the Bern Lötschberg Simplon’ (BLS)’s standard gauge system. Part of that story is related in this blog’s feature Gauge Change at Zweisimmen.

Curiously even though the filming was done in January and the movie being released in late March, its only in the week approaching Easter 2023 the world’s media had got wind of the full story. That perhaps was because the Financial Times had first innings by way of its special feature on the Grand Train Tour of Switzerland’s ‘Ride of a Lifetime’ special along with an interview with both Roger Federer and Trevor Noah at Zürich HBF.

The filming for the Goldenpass Express video – Grand Train Tour of Switzerland: The ride of a lifetime – began on January 11th 2023 at Zürich HBF with three Goldenpass Express carriages present. These were brought in by a BLS locomotive – these had obviously come from Zweisimmen although it seems there’s no photographic record of that particular trip. The stock would have come via Spiez and Bern – and its not the first time the stock has made it to the Zürich area. It however would probably have been the stock’s very first trip to the city’s Hauptbahnhof.

Zürich station was to be the story’s main establishing plot which involved Federer and Noah at Zürich during filming and instead of taking the SBB train they were supposed to be on they boarded the Goldenpass train instead – and before they had fully realised it – the train had departed for Interlaken!

That wasn’t the case in actuality but since the story had to be stitched together in terms of the various elements, it seems Montreux station wouldn’t have done the job. Thus it was Zürich which was meant to represent Montreux. It wasn’t a terribly good imitation – not that it mattered really.

A series of rather amusing scenes ensued with Federer and Noah rather oblivious to the fact they were on the wrong train and the film crew frantically trying to get them to realise their mistake – and to get off the GPX train immediately. As the train left the film crew were panicking and one of them can be seen running alongside the GPX. The story continues with Federer and Noah enjoying the train climb high above Montreux and through the mountains – with passengers asking for their autographs and pictures – before the train attendant comes along and asks to see their tickets – which they of course didn’t have! And their possessions, money and cards are at Montreux with their film crew! One of their fans who is a fellow passenger solves the problem by paying up the fares!

Trevor Noah tries to explain to a rather unimpressed attendant why they are traveling without tickets. The scene through the window looks quite flat because its not the real thing! Screencap from Ride of a Lifetime.

The train journey ends at another station – which isn’t Zweisimmen or Interlaken either! In fact its Zürich HBF once again! This time its the side of the station that fronts onto Museumstrasse. The pair are seen on a seat discussing their wonderfully adventurous journey before their film crew arrive in a taxi. Both Federer and Noah decide to hot foot it and get another train! The bench the pair are seen seated on was placed here specially for the film. There isn’t a bench to be seen anywhere in this part of Zürich HBF!

That’s not the only made up bit of the film. In fact practically the entire interior train scenes were filmed in a ‘studio’ with a green scene background – thus the ascent from Montreux which could be seen through the train windows wasn’t quite exactly what train passengers would see in real life. The ‘studio’ was in fact a train depot located on the main Swiss system and likely to be in the Zürich area. A Goldenpass Express coach was used for the purpose and its clear this was part of the three coach consist used for filming at Zürich HBF.

The MOB at Sendy-Sollard, high above Lake Geneva. Gare de Montreux is practically right in the bottom left hand corner. Screencap from Grand Train Tour of Switzerland.

It does seem that both Federer and Noah spent the entire filming session in the Zurich area and did not once venture to the actual railway in question. There’s a sort of extra film which is a discussion between the two on their adventures and what made them like Switzerland, as well as talk of their South African roots and so on. The setting is made out to be somewhere the GoldenPass Express has stopped at temporarily to wait for another train to pass. However there are no stations on the main GPX line that looks like this stop at all. Its probably meant to imply Därligen – which is en route to Interlaken. However the mountains look different and well known summits such as the Niederhorn are not evident. The film’s producers have deliberately turned the backscene right out of focus to make it harder to identity the location – but no worries the station in question is Brienz!

In a nutshell both the main video and the discussion sequence are meant to show various aspects of the GoldenPass Line between Montreux and Interlaken – and although external aerial shots of the GPX do show these scenes as being on the Montreux Oberland Bernois route at least, there’s a lot of continuity that is questionable because what one sees of the scenery from within the carriage Federer and Noah are apparently riding in, the aerial shots aren’t those locations at all! In fact those scenes from inside where the train is turning through a bend, the green screen film doesn’t look right, it simply doesn’t convey the same sense as a real live trip through the mountains would.

Trevor Noah is seen with the GPX carriages inside a rail depot doubling as a pop-up studio. The green screens are evident. Screencap from Financial Times Globetrotter.

The big problem here is to convey a story of this scope and to do it with good quality shots, it has to be done in a studio format. Its a professional slick, everything is done with green screens and top notch lighting. In fact its rare for professional status or Hollywood films to film rail scenes in real world terms. In one scene of the Federer/Noah feature for the Financial Times, there’s a brief shot of the lightning that is used to convey the impression the train is actually on the move and the scenery is really passing by. There’s just no way this film could have been done and the quality and lighting levels maintained constantly in a real world situation. The interior of the train would have darkened and brightened over quite a wide spectrum if this filming had actually been undertaken during a live journey. Its not what the producers would have wanted and like a lot of professional standard rail scenes involving suspense, drama, comedy etc, a studio setting has to be employed.

The other problem of course is if mistakes or bloopers occurred or there was some other problem, a live train journey could not be simply halted and rewinded back to its start in order that the producers could take a second or even a third take in order to get the shot they would be seeking. Hence there’s another reason why the entire ‘Grand Train Tour of Switzerland: The ride of a lifetime’ film (apart from the station scenes) has been shot almost entirely in a studio setting. It can however be said its a good film given the considerable difficulty task of producing it – and I’m sure it will impress given that it is meant to show off Switzerland’s beauty.

One intriguing aspect of the filming and the finished product was at the time of its release, the MOB had suspended through GPX workings between Montreux and Interlaken because of problems with the equipment at Zweisimmen. Trains has the story as well as Railway Gazette.

The full three and half minutes or so of the main Federer/Noah Swiss rail ride film can be seen on Youtube but also can be viewed via the following tweet. There’s no subtitles on the tweet version alas, hence if one needs these then Youtube would be the better choice.